Reframing ‘feedback’ so that it’s not a scary thing to give

scene of someone wanting to give feedback, and the response from the person hearing the word feedback.

Have you ever held onto feedback you’ve wanted to give to someone on your team because you just don’t know how to say it? Do you ever find that sometimes several moments to give the feedback pass, because you’re figuring out how to say it or approach the topic because you know it will be a ‘hard conversation’? We all know that feedback is an important part of communication within teams, especially new teams that are trying to figure each other out. We all know this, but how many of us actually GIVE the feedback rather than hold onto it? This post reframes what feedback is and how to give it by identifying and reframing 3 key assumptions we have about it.

  1. I have feedback to give TO you
    I noticed that thinking of the thing you’re going to say as feedback immediately frames the conversation to be directed at a person. When thinking, ‘I need to give Bob feedback,’ it puts us in a frame of mind where the conversation is about Bob and his attitude/behaviour. Whereas thinking of feedback as sharing a reflection or observation neutralises the comments as if it’s a thought bubble that’s been blown softly into the space between us. I was working with my friend recently and he said to me in the middle of a discussion, “I’ve realised something about how we work with each other.” I felt immediately open to his comments and reflections, eager to understand how he sees our dynamic. This is a completely different reaction to if someone says ‘Hey, can I give you some feedback?’ I can already feel my stomach tighten!
  2. There is a right moment for feedback
    When I imagine giving feedback, I imagine a conversation happening –between two people; in a frozen moment in time; separated from the rhythm of work and life. It’s difficult to muster up the courage to create the space for these right moments. It sometimes feels impossible to find the right time. I find myself always hesitating, and missing these moments. I used to get frustrated at myself for this, telling myself I lacked courage. But a wise friend reframed feedback as a process, rather than a moment, or a single ‘hard conversation.’ He said it can be a series of reflections and observations – that it can evolve into conversations. Rather than waiting for the right moment to give the feedback, the reflection comes to mind and it is shared in the moment.
  3. I’m giving you feedback so that you can do that thing better next time
    Are you really? Why are you giving this feedback? For what purpose? Really ask yourself this before you decide to give your feedback. It can dramatically shift the tone, and framing of what you were planning to say. It also helps you pin point the intent of giving the feedback so that you can untangle personal biases from it and remain objective – this objectivity is important because working in teams means everyone shapes it, not just you . Let me give you an example. I’ve been in many situations where the person I’m working with gets into their day after 9:15am, whereas I begin at 9:00am on the dot. Now, I could give my colleague feedback and say “Hey Bob, work starts at 9am, can you be ready on time tomorrow so we can start on time?” While that can be the first, visceral reaction, it is a personal reaction that is riddled with biases and values that are not necessarily shared by the rest of the team. Instead, asking myself what is the purpose of saying this? Is it to get them to start at 9am? Maybe, but why is starting at 9am important to me? Is it even important to me? Digging deeper, I realised that I didn’t feel productive in those 15–20mins until Bob arrived because I didn’t want to start the day without him and make him feel that he had to catch up. This meant, for 15–20mins every day, I felt like I was wasting time, and this was frustrating. Understanding why I wanted to give Bob feedback first meant I could better understand myself and the source of the frustration; what was driving the need to give the feedback. Instead, I approached it by sharing that I’ve noticed that he starts at 9:15am and that I like to start early. I also shared that I don’t want to get ahead of him and make him feel like I’ve steam rolled ahead. The outcome? We planned what we’re doing at the end of the day, rather than the beginning so I had stuff to do before he arrived, and he could get into it when he arrived. Win-win.

Challenging my assumptions on what feedback is, is helping me have the conversation tools to share with my team what I need from them. I fundamentally believe that every team needs to find their own unique rhythm so everyone is happy. This is one way to do this.

What conversations have you had that you wish you did differently? How have you shared what you need from the people you’re working with so that the dynamic of the team is not disrupted? What makes it hard for you to do this? Giving feedback can sometimes take courage that we need to muster up first before we can give it. I’m keen to hear and learn from your stories!

  • Dan Szuc

    February 28, 2017 at 11:50 am Reply

    Feedback is easier when the giver and receiver of that feedback has a trust that builds on a mutually beneficial next step.

    When feedback is given in a way that is uncaring or not authentic or is full of ego for the giver but not the receiver, it may not be as effective towards improvement.

  • Ali

    March 4, 2017 at 6:11 am Reply

    I really enjoyed reading this, Dom. Great tips for all of us

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