By: B.J. Rogers
Apparently, a lot of people are all worked up about feedback lately (as evidenced by this article from Fast Company. . .and this article from the Harvard Business Review . . .and this article – which is actually about the previous article – from the Australian website Business Insider by way of the blog The People Geekly).
Far be it from me to question the brilliant minds at either Fast Company or Harvard – I say that without the slightest bit of sarcasm, both are among my favorite places to read interesting articles and learn new things – still,I think both pieces miss a really important point (or two) when it comes to the power of honest, kind, and useful feedback.
Feedback is neither inherently bad nor should it be exclusively critical.
Both articles seem to lean on two assumptions that I find problematic: one, that feedback is solely a tool to address poor performance, and two, that feedback can’t be delivered effectively – and with kindness – such that it’s useful for growth and improvement.
What those assumptions don’t take into account is that feedback is not just the act of telling someone what they did wrong (in fact, when delivered correctly it shouldn’t even be considered that), but is actually something that’s naturally embedded in every reaction we have, whether or not we’re aware of it.
You can’t avoid feedback, but you can learn to take the guesswork out.
If a chef serves you a new creation and your face puckers involuntarily at the taste, you’ve just given feedback – and haven’t said a word.
If a direct report shares news and you roll your eyes – or, dare I suggest, smile – you’ve done the same, given feedback without uttering a syllable.
The danger in each situation is that it leaves the receiver in the position of interpreter. Maybe your face puckered and you LOVE sour foods. Perhaps you rolled your eyes in solidarity (or smiled by way of nervous reaction). Regardless, it’s a crapshoot for the person on the other side as they’re left to surmise what you intended.
And that’s all the more reason that delivering feedback effectively, clearly, and with empathy matters a great deal. But it’s not, in my estimation, a reason to abandon it altogether. There are tools and practices that’ll help you do better; some of them have been around a long time and are pretty straightforward (check out SBI here).