It’s feedback season in COMM-253 at RIT. And every student in the professional communication class is giving and receiving. This is my favorite time of the semester. Seeing honest praise and constructive criticism circulated thoughtfully makes me feel like the facilitator of a gift exchange. While I too am contributing thoughts and impressions, I am the clearinghouse through which all written feedback gets sorted, reviewed, and distributed. And a few thoughts hit me recurrently:
- These young adults give great feedback.
- What a valuable opportunity for them.
- The rest of us need more opportunities to learn from others’ perspectives.
While most of us hold no shortage of desires for others to change, when it comes to providing useful data to assist them in doing so, we shut down. Likewise, we share a universal desire to perform well, but often avoid soliciting or receiving ideas from others. When we embrace the process and do it effectively, we all benefit.
How to Embrace the Process
Telling someone what you think of them comes with uncertainty. So does asking others to share their thoughts about us. When we commit to that fear, our anxiety builds.
Worrying about the “what if?” can shut down our efforts. What if my boss fires me for telling her what I think? What if my colleague tells me I’m terrible at my job?
The antidote to the “what if?” sabotage is “how does?” This can help us look at the current reality (rather than our narrative about it) and consider how to make it better. How does my boss’ current behavior affect the team? How does my current understanding limit me?
Of course, wanting to give and receive feedback is not the same as knowing how to do it. The five pointers below will help you be effective at giving feedback. Next month, I’ll provide tips to help you ask for and receive feedback.
How to Give Feedback
1) Make sure the time is right
If someone asks you for feedback, you know that’s a good time for them. But make sure it’s a good time for you. Asking for some time to organize your thoughts shows that you are taking the request seriously. If not, giving feedback in immediate response to someone’s request, make sure they are ready for it. Ideally, they are not distracted or emotionally charged. If you’re not sure if the time is right, ask.
2) Focus on future application
The point of feedback is to promote desired future behavior. Telling someone they did poorly or made a mistake is only helpful if there is something they can do differently next time.
3) Use “I” and “and”
Starting feedback with “You” is likely to trigger your recipient into fight or flight mode. Starting with “I” helps you avoid this reaction. It also gives you an opportunity to acknowledge your own contribution to the experience. I was confused by your presentation.
Using “and” instead of “but” can also make our feedback more effective. Think of this phrase: Your analytical skills are good, but. . . . The “but” seems to discount what comes before it (the positive feedback) and emphasize what follows (the constructive feedback).
4) Be nonverbally responsive
Just as our verbal language is important, so are the messages we send nonverbally. Show that you are invested in the feedback process by mirroring body language, making eye contact, and listening actively.
5) Follow through
Even in response to the best feedback, changing behavior is a process. Following up with affirmation or clarification demonstrates your commitment to the process and provides an opportunity to lend support.
We can only thrive in who we are and what we do if we keep on learning. Feedback allows us to continue to grow beyond a classroom, and take lessons from things we already do everyday. It also allows us all to be teachers, as well as students.
How to thrive: Consider who could benefit from hearing your affirmative or constructive feedback. What recent or upcoming opportunity provides an opportunity for you to reflect your experience?