Giving and Receiving Feedback

I recently gave a presentation at work about feedback (the professional kind, not the kind that Nirvana produces). Here are some of the take-aways.

two people give a friendly high-five in an office setting
Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

Why feedback is important

In the workplace, feedback is information about how a person is doing in their efforts to reach certain goals. It’s important because it keeps us oriented to our professional milestones.

Giving and receiving feedback are skills that can be developed. They don’t necessarily come naturally to people, but we can practice them and learn how to do them well.

Three types of feedback

The three categories of feedback are:

  • Appreciation – recognizing and rewarding someone for doing great work. Showing appreciation regularly motivates people and helps them continue to exceed expectations.
  • Coaching – helping a person expand their skills, knowledge, and capabilities by setting concrete goals with them. Coaching is an opportunity to deepen a working relationship by exploring a person’s career trajectory and talking about their hopes and frustrations.
  • Evaluation – assessing a team member against a set of standards to align expectations and inform decision-making. Evaluation should be part of a process that includes appreciation and coaching, and should go beyond the dreaded annual review. This type of feedback should be a continual process, not something that happens once a year or once a project.

Don’t do this

  • Don’t play the blame game. Take accountability for missteps you made and work to rectify them.
  • Don’t make excuses. Listen actively, and respond effectively.
  • Don’t make it personal. Never insult a person’s intelligence, and do not be racist, sexist, or otherwise discriminatory in your feedback. That will result in a fast track to HR.
  • Don’t take it personally. Criticism isn’t about who you are as a person. Getting feedback should be seen as an opportunity to improve your work and re-engage with your employer or client.
  • Don’t avoid feedback altogether. Offer feedback often, and constructively; ask for feedback to make sure you’re aligned to goals.
  • Don’t give feedback once a year, or at the end of a project. Feedback should be a continuous process of give and take so that teams are on track to meet or exceed expectations.

Key take-aways

Receiving feedback can be stressful, especially if you are passionate about your work. However, none of us is perfect and gets it 100 percent right on the first try. Listen to feedback with an open mind, ask clarifying questions to better understand next steps and final goals, and take time to process what you are being told so your can respond effectively.

Giving feedback can also be challenging. In order for it to be effective, you need to balance criticism with praise in order to keep people motivated, showing up, and doing their best. Be kind; you are talking to real people with real feelings, not robots. Focus on the behavior and results you want to see. Give feedback that is specific, actionable, and timely.

Remember, if you’re not good at giving feedback constructively or receiving it calmly, you can practice and develop skills. Doing these things well will benefit your career in the long run.

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