Cold chills thinking of hearing hard things about your performance?
Awkwardness of sharing negative feedback with a colleague?
A yearly routine to be endured?
Or frustration at not having a feedback culture where you can voice your concerns?
What if instead, we embraced feedback as a key tool to empower ourselves and our teams?
Giving feedback - and receiving feedback - is a crucial skill for leaders and teams. It helps us keep our team cultures thriving and our working relationships healthy and productive. It enables us to grow and develop ourselves, and to support others and our teams to grow into their potential.
Yet effective feedback starts before the actual conversation. Here are some of the key conditions which set the stage for a feedback conversation to be empowering for both the giver and receiver.
Is it to support the other person’s growth, improve your collaboration, or find new solutions to a challenge affecting the team? Having a clear intention helps focus the feedback session. And be honest with yourself: if your intention is to offload some unfiltered frustration, you might need to find another outlet for it before entering into an empowering feedback conversation.
Perhaps if you need to share some hard feedback, doing it first thing in the morning right before the other person has back-to-back meetings with no time to process it is not the ideal time.
It’s important to create enough space for the feedback conversation to take place in a meaningful way. This means having enough time to respond, ask questions and explore the topic together, as well as having time to process it after.
Too often we wait until the end of a project to give feedback on what didn’t work well, which the other person may not have even been aware of. If we give feedback in a timely manner, there is still the opportunity to change things along the way. Which counts for reinforcing the things that are going well, too.
The longer we leave between feedback talks, the more issues can pile up, building tensions and potentially resulting in a feedback talk which is overwhelming for the recipient. Having feedback as a more regular process allows us to deal with issues as they arise. How often is right for you depends on your context.
Ideally you can find a neutral location for your conversation, where you both (or all) feel comfortable. It’s also important to consider if the location is private or not, and ideally choose a private location for more challenging conversations. However, sometimes it can be appropriate to give positive feedback in front of other people to recognise that person more publicly. But consider if this will make them uncomfortable of course!
Feedback works best when we are prepared. This includes giving specific examples which capture the dynamic or behaviour we want to give feedback on. When giving examples, focus on things which can actually be changed, and as much as possible, try to focus on facts and withhold judgements about people’s behaviours and intentions. Remember that feedback is a reflection of your experience of the other person. Therefore, frame it from your perspective and be open to owning your part in the situation.
When we believe that the other person is doing their best and has good intentions, we can have a completely different experience of their behaviour in a situation than if we believe they don’t have good intentions. When preparing our key points, looking through the lens of appreciation helps us focus on the things that are working well that we want to see more of, rather than only focusing on what is not working. If we feel appreciated and valued, it is also easier to receive feedback that is harder to hear.
The work of creating feedback conversations which are empowering begins long before the conversation itself. The level of trust we have in each other, as well as the level of psychological safety we each have (feeling safe to share our ideas, concerns and be ourselves without fear of being rejected or ridiculed) play an important role in how feedback is given and received.
For example, if you need to share something hard with me, and I know that you trust and appreciate me and my work, it will be much easier for me to listen to the hard thing you need to share. And if I feel safe with you, I can share my own experience honestly, rather than getting defensive or shutting off.
Of course, being well prepared and creating the conditions for our conversation to go well is just the beginning.
For methods, tips, reflection questions and more, download our full Giving & Receiving Empowering Feedback Courageous Communication Toolbox here.
What else supports you to prepare for your feedback conversations? We’d love to hear from you!
Here are some of the ways in which we can support you to build your capacity for empowering leadership and teamwork:
To explore how we can support your team, please get in touch.