Have you noticed how some managers are able to provide their people with feedback in a constructive way? The feedback they provide, positive and negative alike, is taken fully on board and their individual staff members and teams thrive and prosper. Their departments and areas are more productive, more constructive and generally have more engaged employees within them. If you have never experienced it yourself, it can appear to be nothing short of miraculous.
Well delivered constructive feedback fuels their success engines like gasoline fuels a car engine.
I’m sure you will also have noticed how some managers deliver feedback so poorly they create nothing but misery and chaos. They would be better off saying nothing in fact.
If you have been on the receiving end of poorly delivered managerial feedback you will know how much misery and pain it can cause. I have witnessed some managers leaving such a trail of emotional disaster in their wake it has brought whole departments full of previously high performing people to their knees. Whether it is delivered poorly by intention or otherwise is something of a moot point because the effect is always the same; unhappy and demotivated people.
Poorly delivered feedback can tear down staff morale faster than gasoline can help light a bonfire. It can crush people.
This article is the ninth part in my Success Formula series. Make sure you check out part one here if you have not already read it.
The eighth element in my success formula is termed feedback.
What exactly is feedback?
Feedback is the process by which a measure of an actual performance criteria is compared with some ideal performance criteria. That’s it. Humans receive feedback all the time. We get it from the environment, other creatures and other humans. Humans project a steady stream of information out to the world all the time, whether we’re aware of it or not. The data and information we give and receive can verbal and non-verbal.
Feedback is data. That is all it is. When humans provide verbal feedback, it is often purely subjective. In other words, it is only an opinion. We can generally choose to act or not act on any given piece of verbal or non-verbal data provided to us by another human. For example, we can choose to ignore our doctor’s advice about giving up smoking.
Constructive or developmental feedback provides clues and ideas on how to make improvements in behaviour or performance. Destructive or critical feedback has the opposite effect and is to be avoided whenever possible. We can request feedback and we can be asked for it. We can offer it regardless and we can have if thrust upon us unbidden.
For our purposes then, constructive feedback can be defined as intentionally delivered or specifically requested information, ideally delivered face to face, which enables the recipient to take useful corrective action, maintain or develop favourable situations and avoid unfavourable situations if they so choose.
Successful people crave feedback
Look online for information about the Johari Window model. It is fascinating and very well-documented, so I won’t reproduce anything here. The Johari Window model was devised by American psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham back in 1955. It essentially states we have four areas within us and these impact on our interactions with the wider world.
- An “open” area of which we are aware, and of which others are aware.
- A “hidden” area of which we are aware, but of which others are not aware.
- An “unknown” area of which we are unaware, and of which others are unaware.
- A “blind” area of which we are unaware, but of which others are aware
My point here is, obtaining feedback fills in our knowledge of the fourth or “blind” part of ourselves. The blind area shrinks accordingly. Exploring the Johari Window model is an interesting exercise for individuals and groups which you may like to try out.
If you choose to act on good information you can hugely improve your behaviours and performance. It is how all successful people learn and improve.
In fact, truly successful people crave feedback. If you want to become truly successful, then you’ll seek it out constantly. You won’t seek out just any old feedback though. If you’re smart, what you will seek out and crave will be high-quality information. High-quality information from the right people, at the right time and delivered to you in a direct no-nonsense style; warts and all.
Who to get feedback from
If you seek feedback from your biggest fans their responses will likely make you feel good, but you will get little in the way of constructive material you can work with to improve your situation or performance. Likewise, it’s not a great idea to approach your worst enemy about it either, for obvious reasons.
Get your feedback from people who will provide it effectively but who will also deliver it warts and all. The best people to ask are people whose opinion and impartiality you trust. They should be expert enough for the level of information you require. Importantly they should be happy with the prospect of helping you out. Test the waters first, as it is surprising how many times people simply assume someone will help. Get a third-party introduction if you don’t know them directly.
Be clear about why your asking them for the information or advice and give them an easy out. Nobody likes to feel painted into a corner. If they can’t help you ask for a recommendation and/or introduction to someone who can. I always find that being a bit cheeky is okay when you have a smile on your face.
When to get your feedback for best results
This is more of an art than a science. Knowing when to ask for feedback gets easier with practice but I can offer few pointers here.
Don’t ask too early in the process. It looks like you’re not trying and may simply want people to do it for you. You will also miss valuable learning opportunities. Don’t ask too late either because you may have made some major errors or omissions by then which could prove costly.
I recommend you do as much work as possible before you ask for help. When you have discovered a few clear sticking points, I suggest you dig even deeper yourself. Exhaust every avenue in your efforts to find your own answers. You will learn more, solve many of the issues anyway, earn more respect and receive higher quality feedback than you might have if you’d asked earlier. The feedback they give you will be more valuable and make more sense as well.
The right time to ask is when you have explored all you can on your own. Then make sure you ask the appropriate person for the level of response you require.
How to ask for feedback for best results
The answer here is to be as specific as possible. Be ultra-specific if you can.
It is very difficult to know where to begin when someone asks, “Tell me how I’m doing as a trainer?”
How much easier would it be if the question was, “Can you let me have some feedback on two key areas of my training presentation. One area is my vocal variety. How much tonal variation and tempo change was evident in my presentation? As an audience member, did it help with overall engagement? The second area is my positioning around the flipchart stand. Did you notice if I had my back to the audience for too long each time? Any additional points for improvement you may have would of course be most welcome. Thank you.”
The more specific you are then the higher-quality response you will get. Try it next time you ask.
When receiving your feedback try to remain neutral and don’t get defensive. This will take practice and willpower. Even if you don’t like what you’re hearing, stick with it calmly until the end. Say thank you then reflect on the information given to you after the event. There could be solid gold in amongst the not so valuable bits but getting defensive early on means you’ll never hear it.
By the way, if you get a reputation for being a bad receiver of feedback, people will stop providing it. Get a good reputation however, and you’ll keep benefitting from a wonderful resource. People talk, and reputations are important. Look after yours.
Try feeding feedback forward
If you have benefitted from high-quality and well-delivered constructive feedback, why not pass on the benefits to others?
Begin to work on improving your ability to provide high-quality developmental information. Model yourself on skilled practitioners and get their feedback on your feedback. What goes around comes around.
Having skill and confidence when providing feedback is a skill which can set you head and shoulders above your peers and colleagues.
Feedback is just someone’s opinion
As a big caveat, always bear in mind, someone’s feedback is just their opinion about something or someone else. There is no law which compels one person to accept or even recognise another person’s feedback. It is all down to personal choice.
Make sure you get enough of the high-quality feedback you need to help keep yourself on the right track. I wish you well on your journey.
I hope you enjoyed this article and found it useful. If you did then please like it and share it. Every little bit helps in internet land.
Why not check out the other Success Formula series posts?