The Dreaded F Word
There’s a new topic emerging in the conversations I’m having with my clients recently, and it’s all about the dreaded F word ‘feedback’. This word has so many negative connotations; I’ve had leaders in workshops and coaching sessions talk about how their blood starts to pump, their heart rate increases and some feel the need to flee the scene as quickly as possible!
I’ve always found these reactions quite fascinating. I’m a firm believer that you can’t continue to learn and grow without constant sources of information to assist with course correction. If you’re only getting this information from your own point of view then it’s likely this is not a very accurate picture of what’s actually going on. You’re actively choosing to ignore a large percentage of the data that’s available, and you run the risk of ending up in a very isolating and lonely place. Not only are you shutting down access to information that can help you to learn, grow and develop, but you’re also limiting your ability to build trusting relationships with colleagues, direct reports, your manager and friends.
Research shows that people who actively and sincerely seek feedback from others, will get more feedback that is helpful to their development. The outcomes are impressive; they have a more accurate view of how they are perceived by others, they are more highly regarded than those who don’t seek feedback (as this behaviour creates a positive impression), and they are more creative at work (Ashford & DeRue, 2012).
So, if feedback has so many positive outcomes, why are we running away from it?
Inviting constructive criticism of our work, our behaviour and our very sense of self can be confronting. What if someone doesn’t like what we have to offer? What if they say something that really hurts? What if they think our work is sub-standard?
The thing is, I would much rather that someone discussed these issues with me, than talked to someone else about me. I would like to be given the opportunity to understand how my behaviour is interpreted by others and have the chance to course correct it. Wouldn’t you?
So, if you’re willing to be brave and ask for feedback, here’s a few tips that may help:
1. Make it comfortable for others to give you feedback. You can take the stigma out of it by not saying the word ‘feedback’ at all. Take a more informal approach and ask then for coffee. Take the time to discuss a recent project and ask their opinions; what worked, and what you could improve next time. Done in this way, you’re turning feedback into an everyday conversation.
2. Make it easy for others to give you feedback. If you’re trying to shift a behaviour or improve a skill, be really clear on the topic, skill or behaviour you’d like to change and give them some context as to why. Asking for general feedback can make it hard for people to know where to start and make them reticent to divulge their thoughts.
3. Ask a variety of people for feedback. Include your peers, direct reports, your manager, internal and maybe even external stakeholders. This helps to give you a well-rounded view of your skill, behaviour and impact.
4. Act on the feedback. People are more likely to continue to give you feedback when they see that you’ve listened to what they had to say. There’s nothing more frustrating than being asked to give your opinion on something, feeling that it was ignored and then being asked again. If for some reason you’re not able to make a change in this area, be transparent about the reasons why. In addition, if you disagree with the feedback, thank the person for sharing their thoughts and ensure that you write down what they have said, just as they said it. Sense check this information with some other trusted advisors to understand a number of different perspectives.
5. Ask for feedback regularly; when your trusted advisors understand you’re going to keep asking for their opinion, they are more likely to come prepared with something to say.
Gathering data from others about your performance, behaviour and skills is an important part of ongoing growth and development and has an impact on your performance, creativity and self-awareness. Start small by organising a coffee with someone in your team today, engage in an open conversation and take the fear out of the dreaded f word!
Siân is a university educated coaching psychologist with eighteen years’ experience in Human Resources and Organisational Development roles across the industrial, manufacturing and FMCG sectors. She is an experienced facilitator and coach, applying evidence-based practices based on applied psychology.