Have you ever received feedback that you reacted badly to? Or tried to give someone else feedback and found they have flown off the handle?
Feedback can be something people avoid because it can go in lots of different directions with so many of them not the route you wanted to take!
And yet, timely, constructive feedback is essential for the successful management of teams. It is also be critical for professional development so it is important that we create an environment where we can have open and honest feedback conversations which lead to better performance and development.
After a few car crash feedback discussions, I decided to find out more about the theory of good feedback and how to make sure I can deliver this effectively each time for the benefit of those in my team.
Types of feedback
The first thing to notice is that there are 3 different types of feedback. All are important and you need to know the appropriate type to use in different situations and ensure that in your leadership practice, you are employing a balance of all types on a regular basis.
- Coaching – this type of feedback aims to help the receiver ‘expand knowledge, sharpen skill, improve capability’. If you want to have a conversation about how an individual can improve, then coaching is a good way to go. Beware though, a coaching approach is about asking questions (and the right kind of questions) to support the individual to explore the issue for themselves and come up with their own solution. You can guide, you can support but you cannot ‘tell’ in a truly effective coaching conversation.
- Evaluation – this is to ‘rank against a set of standards’. An example might be the classic performance review conversation where you are discussing how the individual has delivered against what was agreed. It requires someone to rate an individual so for this to be effective, there needs to be agreement at the beginning about the measures they will be assessed against and support to help the individual meet expectations. If you don’t provide this clarity and the individual scores badly, they will feel angry and frustrated which will lead to a difficult conversation and probably more to follow.
- Appreciation – this is feedback where effort, commitment and achievement is recognised. You might also call this type of feedback ‘praise’ or ‘gratitude’. Some leaders find this uncomfortable but it should be used often to motivate. Appreciation encourages the
release of oxytocin which is important for connection and vital for building relationships and strong teams.
When feedback goes wrong…
We have to give feedback at times and even in the very best relationship, it can sometimes go wrong. If you find that the receiver reacts emotionally, you can be sure that one of these triggers has been activated:
Truth trigger – it may be that the feedback appears untrue to the person on the receiving end. Maybe they think you don’t know what you are talking about and if this is the case, you could perhaps consider whether they are right and what you could do to build your own knowledge (being honest about your own weaknesses can also improve the conversation).
The other possibility is that you have hit on a ‘blind spot’ which means they genuinely don’t see that the issue you raise is true of them. It is not in line with their perception of reality and in this instance, a coaching approach could be beneficial to support them to explore the issue for themselves and allow yourself to understand it from their perspective. If you are the receiver, you could test the feedback on people you trust which may help you to understand your blind spots in a safe space.
Relationship trigger – have you ever been in a relationship that has turned bad and everything you or they say leads to a negative response? This can happen in work too. Having a good relationship is critical for successful feedback conversations. If there is an issue with the relationship such as a lack of trust and respect, it is likely that the feedback will not land well. Relationship triggers can create ‘switchtrack’ conversations where the receiver will retaliate by raising another issue they feel is related. In this instance, it is important to recognise all issues and discuss them separately. This will ensure both parties feel heard and respected. If you notice this trigger, it might be worthwhile taking a step back, acknowledging the problem and taking steps to address the relationship issue.
Identity trigger – in this instance, the feedback is not in line with the individual’s perception of ‘self’ and challenges how they are wired. For example, the receiver may be told that their actions were unfair when they believe that fairness is their core value. An identity trigger can cause real distress so needs to be talked about openly to find out all points of view and help the individual understand how their actions have been perceived and if there is anything they could do differently in the future.
How can you ensure feedback lands well every time?
Firstly, for feedback to land well every time, you need to have a good relationship where both parties feel comfortable to talk openly about their thoughts and feelings. It is important to create a safe space for discussion where there is no judgement, only acceptance and constructive intent.
Few people want to create conflict but sometimes the thought of giving feedback can lead to a situation where those involved enter the discussion already on the defensive. The best attitude for a difficult conversation is a positive and constructive one which allows the problem to be discussed, addressed and resolved in partnership.
Whist a good relationship is important for feedback, so is feedback important for good relationships and strong teams so should be something we engage in at all levels on a regular basis. If you create an environment where this can be shared constructively at all levels, you should have a space where everyone can thrive.
Do you have examples of good or bad feedback? How have you ensured an environment where constructive discussions can take place? Share your experiences in the comments below.