Feedback that builds confidence
Updated: Apr 23, 2022
I was reflecting on how we all give and receive feedback in our lives in the different roles we have. It might be as a parent to a child, in a role as a coach or trainer, when we are studying and receive feedback from our tutor, as a business when we are looking for evaluation on what is working for our clients or it could be when we receive appreciation for something we have done or a skill demonstrated.
Whatever it is feedback can make us want to jump up and down with happiness or it can make us turn away from the person who has given it and feel downright rotten! Much of this is how it is given and the intent behind it. We don't learn this stuff in school unless very lucky so the person giving feedback can do some damage if there are not boundaries in place. In a recent poll I was asked to write about skill steps for giving and receiving feedback, how to have a say in feedback you receive, how to deal with having feedback that is an accusation and how to put boundaries in place for rejecting it! So here goes!
Firstly why do we need feedback?
The benefit of giving and receiving feedback means that we understand more about how we come across to others. It is a helpful tool for making changes, it means that we can keep on target with the results we set out to achieve and we can improve our effectiveness. It is important for learning. We increase our insight into evaluating and reflecting on a situation. It helps us to engage with others on a deeper level as we increase understanding. It also motivates our practice.
Relationships are our greatest assets in organisations, the workplace, our professional and personal lives and we as humans tend to seek out and, if it is done well, thrive on feedback.
Think back to a time when you tried to do something, you kept practicing and then were given some feedback on what was working well and suggestions for improvement. You then went and tried out the suggestion and hey presto you increased in confidence and learnt that much quicker.
I have many times been adjusted in a movement in a dance class or yoga session and have had a real light bulb moment that I could not have had if I had just continued with that move my way!!
The spirit of feedback - entering the other person's world
Covey (2003 The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) explores how it is imporant to 'seek first to understand then be understood'. He talks about the balance between the two that the intent to understand others is as important as the intent to reply. He advocates seeking things from the other person's perspective and point of view not just his own. This is good advice for healthy feedback that builds others up, increases confidence, rather than puts them down.
If we are to develop our ability to disclose feedback skilfully then this includes eliciting the recipients thoughts and assumptions about the situation. It also helps with creating an atmosphere of psychological safety- to feel included, to learn, to contribute, to challenge and rather than feeling in ‘fight or flight’ more open to new possibilities, creativity and productivity.
Obstacles for feedback
We can feel it as a shock when it is unexpected and if there do not seem to be clear goals and outcomes from it. If it is delivered in a way that feels unequal to the recipient - we can feel judged. If we have received negative feedback in the past then we may have built up negative beliefs that feedback is not going to be helpful. If the person giving feedback is not feeling skilled enough to handle the response then this means that it gets witheld and communication issues can build up.
Steps for giving feedback
You will have your favourite method for giving feedback and I would be really interested in hearing what works for you. When I ask my teenage daughter she says 'I like feedback when it includes praise and what I am doing well as well as some points to work on, I like it to end in a positive'. This is one of the main steps - point really well made! Here are my steps that you might find helpful:
1) Give yourself time to think before hand to prepare. What is the feedback about? What is the one thing you want to gain from giving it? what is a mutually beneficial outcome? What is your intent?
2) Own it. Use I messages such as 'I noticed...' So when giving feedback it is specifically coming from you. Suggest other perspectives if necessary but make it clear where they are coming from. There is nothing worse than hearing feedback in a general way about what a 'whole bunch of people' think.
3) Make it about specific behaviours and facts. Stick to the facts that you see, the behaviours you have noticed. It is also worth noting that 'chunking it down' to one thing is much easier that 'layering'. So make it specifically about something that can be heard and taken in - not giving a series of points that can be harder to hear. You may wish to consider ways to give it according to learning style, such as verbal, watching an observation clip or it could even be modeled.
4) State the feedback in the positive. If it is positive feedback that is fine but when you are giving feedback in a way that might be asking for a change it is important to positively reframe it, for example, talking about what do you want to see rather than what you don't want. Make it constructive.
5) Sequence it. Use praise for what has worked well which increases confidence. As mentioned in my daughter's comment this is really important. You don't know what type of day people are having, what is going on for them and we all have days where we can accept feedback easier than others. Start with the positive and sequence it so that any changes you might be suggesting come next and then finish with a suggestion/solution.
6) Engage with the other person. Ask what the other person thinks. Seek feedback on your feedback! Pull solutions from the person receiving feedback.
7) Keep it forward focused. Work on finding out what the future goals would be/ the solution and try to ensure it is collaborative so although you are providing the feedback you are also listening to the other person.
8) Be prepared for rejection! The other person does not have to accept the feedback. If this is the case you will need to discuss consequences for both on not accepting it and work in a collaborative manner.
So I hope this has given you some food for feedback! In Nancy Kline's book Time to Think, which a wonderful co trainer recommended to me after we delivered coaching for doctor's training, she mentions the importance of ending with a genuine positive. Also focusing on the 'key thing' that if the person was to change it would 'change the rest for the better'.
Receiving feedback is a skill like giving feedback it can be learned and we can have a say in how we receive it and how we feedback on our feedback. Have a look at my steps below to streamline your skills!
Steps for receiving feedback
1) Reflect back what you have heard. It is helpful to respond to feedback by reflecting back to the other person that you have heard what they are saying. You can even say 'I think what you are saying is....? am I correct?' We can colour our judgements with our own perception and if we have grown up with a great deal of criticism in the past can go straight into a negative frame of mind. Checking it out increases our ability to feel part of the feedback to make it more of a 2 way process. There is nothing worse than feeling that feedback is 'done to you'.
2) Accept or reject it! Just because we are given feedback we don't have to agree with it and this can start the collaborative process off - working on future goals. 'I hear what you are saying but I don't agree with xyz....can we discuss it a bit further? I would like to add my viewpoint'...
3) Invite further feedback. You might wish to invite specific feedback. You could ask, for example, 'how did you assess my skills'?...'how might it be coming across?'..'so you did not find xyz relevant to you but what did you find helpful in the training?'.
4) Consider future outcomes. Where do you want to take it from here? If being critised for example you might want to think why you are being criticised/accused. Consider if it has been framed in a constructive way. Then consider ways to respond to move forward in a positive way. It might be you accept the ideas presented, correct their perceptions, assert yourself, take on board the feedback or suggest more information is needed and a follow up plan.
In looking at both giving and receiving feedback it needs to be healthy and constructive and both parties feel like they have been able to put their point across and been heard. It is also helpful to be aware of any triggers when we are receiving feedback. If our emotions are increasing we might need to recognise and manage these and seek to understand why we are feeling like this so that we use the feedback to grow and evolve. It's a two way process and being able to receive feedback well is also a skill.
So healthy constructive feedback that breeds confidence is:
Given in a constructive manner with clear empathy for the other person
Based on facts and evidence
Uses reframing and reflective statements
Pulls solutions from the receiver
Is respectful and collaborative
Sensitive to cultural and individual considerations - we are all individuals and effective feedback is given with this in mind
Suggests other perspective
Specific - often based on behaviour
Balanced between the speaker and the listener
Given in a spirit of equality
Related to goals and values
Linked to outcomes
A postive reframe for change
It is also worth mentioning the importance of timing. This is especially important if in in the context of giving feedback to children or an observation at work. Keep it fresh!
In coaching and training I help people to consider what they know about themselves and consider what they don't know yet, but can explore to make helpful solution focused change.
If we can give and receive feedback effectively this takes skill and we get closer to learning more about ourselves and others and in return this provides communication that is both confident, healthy and open and honest. We have a duty to provide it in a sensitive manner and a right to receive it in a way that is respectful and considerate.
Please feel free to check out my website or give me a call for coaching and training needs. I offer a free 20 mins coaching consultation.