Feedback is such an important instigator of growth. And one of the ways we enhance both our growth mindset and our practical skills is by eliciting and valuing feedback. But feedback can be tricky for a number of reasons. We’ve all had experiences of both giving and receiving feedback that didn’t go well or, in some cases, may even have caused real harm and pain for us and others.
There are four key things to remember when we’re giving feedback, if we want it to be well-received:
1. Permission – There has to be implicit or, ideally, explicit permission for us to give someone feedback. Unsolicited feedback, even if it’s spot-on and valuable, can be hard to take. Asking someone if they’re open to feedback or whether we can give them some, while sometimes awkward, can be helpful and important. This is true even if we’re their boss, parent, or mentor, or in any other type of relationship with them where permission for our feedback may seem implied. Making sure that we have permission to give feedback shows that we respect and value the person to whom we’re giving it. It also usually makes feedback feel less like judgment and more like help, allowing the person to be more receptive to what we have to say.
2. Intention – It’s important for us to check in with ourselves about the intention behind our feedback. In other words, why are we giving them this feedback? Do we genuinely want them to be more successful? Are we annoyed with them and want to let them know why? Are we trying to prove or defend ourselves? Are we trying to control them or the situation? There are all kinds of reasons why we give feedback to others, and sometimes there is more than one. But being real with ourselves about our motivation behind giving feedback can help us determine whether or not it’s even going to be helpful. And assuming we decide that it is, making sure our intention is genuine and positive will make it more likely that the person will be receptive to it.
3. Skill – Giving feedback effectively takes skill. Of course, from a growth-mindset perspective, giving feedback is not only important, but also one of many things we can improve upon the more we practice and dedicate ourselves to doing it. Because giving and receiving feedback can be a vulnerable experience for everyone involved, it requires attention, commitment, awareness, and courage to do it well. And even with all those things, it’s still not easy. The more willing we are to do it, the more we can develop our skill of giving feedback successfully. And there are, of course, different ways to skillfully give feedback. Oftentimes, especially at work, we may give it directly and explicitly as part of a review or development conversation. But as Melissa Daimler, Senior Vice President of Talent at WeWork and former Head of Learning at Twitter, once told me, “Sometimes the best feedback I’ve gotten has been when I didn’t even realize it was feedback.”
4. Relationship – The most important aspect of giving effective feedback is the relationship we have with the person we’re giving it to. We can have explicit permission, the most positive intention, and a lot of skill in how we deliver it — but if our relationship isn’t strong or it’s actively strained, it’ll be very difficult for us to give feedback to someone and have them receive it well. I could get the same exact feedback from two different people but react to it differently depending on my relationship with each of them. Let’s say, in one case, I know the person cares about me, appreciates me, and believes in me. I’m much more likely to be open to their feedback and to take it positively. But if, in another case, the person is someone I don’t know as well or may have some unresolved issues with, it’s less likely that I’ll be open and take their feedback well. This is all about personal credibility.
Making sure the relationships we have are strong and authentic helps us ensure that we can give feedback effectively when we need to do so. All four of these things — permission, intention, skill, and relationship — are important for us to remember when giving feedback. And they’re also important for us to think about in receiving feedback. The other side of the same coin is making sure that we give people permission to give us feedback, check in with and pay attention to what their intention might be, give them feedback about how they’re giving it or how we like it to be given, and work to strengthen our relationships with the people around us.
The most effective ways to enhance our ability to receive feedback are to ask for it, be open to it, and genuinely consider it when it comes our way. Receiving feedback is essential to our growth and success. And the more willing we are to seek it out and take it in, the further along the continuum of growth mindset we can move.
What makes giving feedback most challenging for you? What can you do to make it a little easier and more effective?
This article is excerpted from Bring Your Whole Self to Work, by Mike Robbins, with permission. Published by Hay House (May 2018) and available online or in bookstores.