We often use the term feedback loosely. It has become quite the buzz word. What do we really mean when we ask for feedback from our team members or customers? And more importantly, what are we trying to convey when we give feedback to others?
Feedback is a two way street. It’s important that those who give feedback train themselves in how to do so effectively. But just as important is for everyone to learn how to receive feedback effectively.
No matter who is the person giving feedback - what their experience, position or level of power is - it’s up to the person receiving feedback how much of that information they accept.
According to Sheila Heen, co-author of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (along with Douglas Stone), feedback can mean three different things.
The problem with feedback is that it’s often perceived to be delivered ungracefully. As Sheen and Douglas put it in their book, feedback can often “feel less like a ‘gift of learning’ and more like a colonoscopy.”
That’s because most of us are unaware of the impact that we have on other people.
So let’s take a look at the three different types of feedback, when to deliver them and how to receive them.
Need for appreciation is part of the fourth level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, so it shouldn’t be surprising that appreciation is in fact one of the three types of feedback.
The need to feel esteemed plays an important role in motivating people’s behaviour. Everybody needs to sense that they are valued and that they are making a contribution to the world. And our professional lives are paramount in fulfilling our esteem needs.
That’s why all of us need to sense appreciation from those around us. Lack of appreciation can lead to feelings of inferiority and lack of motivation.
Should you ever hold back on appreciation feedback? Well, some people are most motivated when they need to prove themselves again and again. However, most people lose interest if they feel they don’t matter, or that what they do doesn't matter. It’s a delicate tension between the need for learning and personal development and the need to be accepted.
Coaching is about telling someone where they are and how they can get better. It’s about instructing someone on how they can grow and improve themselves.
Should coaching be solicited? Most of the time, yes. Ideally, there should already exist a mentor - protégé type of relationship; otherwise, coaching will be hard to accept. If you really care about coaching someone, then consider strengthening the mentorship relationship first, so that your feedback isn’t off-putting.
Now the trouble with coaching is that if the receiver feels under-appreciated by the person giving the feedback, it’s hard to take pointers from them. Same goes if the person receiving the feedback doesn’t believe that the person giving it has the necessary qualifications. How we feel treated by someone and how we see them affects the feedback we are willing to accept from them.
If you find yourself in a situation where you’re feeling revolted at the feedback you're receiving, stop yourself for a moment to think what is really bother you. Is it the feedback itself, or the person who is giving it? If someone you admire and respect would be giving you that feedback, would you feel the same?
These questions will help you assess whether your personal feelings are getting in the way of how you receive the feedback.
Evaluation involves passing judgment on somebody’s skills or work.
This kind of feedback is the loudest emotionally, because many people feel it attacks their identity - even though most times evaluation is intended as coaching. This is a key observation for both giving and receiving feedback gracefully.
Evaluation can make the person receiving the feedback feel threatened and overwhelmed. They become unsure of what to think about themselves, and so an actual discussion of their strengths and weaknesses becomes impossible. That's why it's important to frame evaluation feedback in a positive manner.
It’s also important to understand that, according to Sheen and Douglas, individuals can vary by 3000% from one another in how sensitive they are to receiving feedback. What might seem like the end of the world to one person, simply brushes off another. And our very own individual sensitivity to feedback differs from one day to another, depending on events going on in our lives. So there’s really no formula for giving and receiving feedback, other than a big dose of emotional intelligence.
Whether you're at the giving or receiving end, there's a lot to be learned about feedback. Chances are the more you move between the role of giver and receiver, the more you'll improve yourself at both giving and receiving feedback, because you will be able to understand both roles better.
What kind of feedback do you give/receive most often? How do you take in feedback? How do you offer it? And how do people react to it? Share your experiences with us in the comment section below.