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Six Strategies for Better Feedback

We fear feedback because we expect criticism. Yet we know it is good for us. How do we reconcile these two conflicting notions? Read on to identify your maladaptive behaviour and learn six strategies for improving feedback. You can improve your results by framing feedback as “debrief”!

In a 2003 article from the Harvard Business Review, Jay Jackman explores why many people are afraid of feedback. He identifies maladaptive behaviours which result from our fear of feedback, including:
Procrastination. We procrastinate because we feel helpless, anxious, or embarrassed about a situation.
Denial. We unconsciously deny when we are unable or unwilling to face reality.
Brooding. We react emotionally with a profound sense of foreboding.
Jealousy. We become suspicious when we compare ourselves to others.
Self Sabotage. We undercut ourselves.

Which is your maladaptive behaviour? Is it working for you? I suspect that I trend to self-sabotage. Our imagined fears about feedback can have a huge negative impact on working relationships.

Based on what we do know about feedback best practices, here are six strategies to improve your feedback loop:

  1. Ask for it. Try these two sentences: “I would like to give you some feedback.” Or: “Let’s debrief.” Which sits better with you? Asking for a debrief takes us off the defensive. When we are defensive we sink into protection and are less likely or willing to be open to what the other has to say. The debrief sets us up for a two-way dialogue which we can face openly.
  2. Focus on business outcomes. Separate the people from the business problem. When receiving feedback, listen for business outcomes. Face the problem, and not the person. It is helpful to write the problem on the whiteboard to stand together and look at it there.
  3. Make it timely and do it often. Establish a regular ritual of debriefing at key points during and after the completion of every project. The debrief will provide the opportunity for more frequent and timely feedback, which will in turn open the door to a greater breadth and variety of feedback. This will establish a foundation for personal growth. With practice, you will become more adept at giving and receiving feedback.
  4. Balance the positive and negative outcomes. We have a deep-seated need for validation and acknowledgement which is often overlooked. Positive feedback plays a significant role in this. In the debrief, build on what is going well. Ask questions such as “What is something that has been going well that we can build on?”
  5. Be specific. Specific examples lead to clarity. One of the first symptoms of frustration is generalization. We say things like “She is always late” which escalates emotions and tension. Identify the facts and rein in your assumptions.
  6. Ask questions. Enter the debrief conversation with an attitude of curiosity, rather than judgement. Seek clarity through questions.

The feedback conversation is important and unavoidable. Advocate for a strong feedback protocol which will work for you, and commit to supporting others around you with constructive feedback through regular and timely debriefing conversations. You will not regret it.

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