What is it about feedback?

Do you remember when you were a child and you did not like something someone said or did to you? Do you have young children or grandchildren? What happens when you feed them something they do not like? Yes, indeed, you get feedback instantly! So, what is it about adults that we appear to lose the capacity to give and receive feedback?

During my work with people in organisations I always like to ask how many like to get feedback. Invariably, all raise their hands. The qualification that often gets added is that they only like it when it is constructive (whatever that means) and, when digging a bit deeper it usually has something to do with how the feedback is delivered. To my next question, who likes to give feedback, usually only about half of the hands go up. This clearly presents an opportunity, i.e. while everyone appears to want to get feedback, only 1 in 2 people actually like to give feedback. When discussing this further, the number one reason for not wanting to give feedback is that it may upset the other person. I wonder how much thought we gave to this as a toddler?

How can we close this gap? A first step is to use the Johari window to further frame feedback. The wonderful thing is that people may not give each other feedback, but everyone loves to talk about everyone else’s “blind spots”, the things we say/do we are not aware of, except with the person concerned. This is usually an eye-opener to people – “you mean I have blind spots?” – because they had not thought about this before. Second, feedback in essence is all about perception, i.e. impact versus intention, and not “the truth” (if the same feedback comes back over and over again, you may consider that there is some truth in it…). You may do or say something which has a completely different impact on someone else. Third, to get a better insight into our blind spots, any feedback we get, is really a gift. And, what do we do when get a gift? Indeed, say “thank you”, unpack it and then decide what we do with the gift. We either keep it or, figuratively speaking, put it in the attic or the basement.

Whereas we do not give much consideration to this when we were a child, there is a simple rule about giving feedback. Do not point the finger at the person you give the feedback to, but be egocentric and make it about you, the giver of feedback. As mentioned, it is all about the impact someone has on you. A simple set of sentences goes like: “When you……., I felt…….., because……… What I would like is…….., because…… What do you think?” As example, “When you showed up late for our meeting, I felt upset, because we had agreed to meet on time. What I would like is that you either show up on time or give me advanced warning if you can not be on time. What do you think?”

It is wonderful to grow up and become an adult. In many ways we continue to express the child in ourself as adults, but as it relates to something as important as feedback, many adults appear to have lost this ability. The realisation that we all have blind spots, what we say and do is perceived differently by different people,  that we all like to receive gifts and that when we give feedback we make it about ourself will hopefully contribute to a more honest society in which we learn every day.





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