The Art of Giving Feedback
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“Getting people to welcome feedback was the hardest thing I ever had to do as an educator.” – Professor Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

Everything is connected today. We need to collaborate with others to succeed in our relationships, life and work. For that, we need to develop the art of giving feedback and critiques.

In its original sense, feedback is the exchange of information about how one part of a system is working, with the understanding that it affects everyone else within the system. If any part veers off course, prompt remediation is critical.

Feedback is every organization’s lifeblood – the mechanism that lets people know whether they’re doing a good job or if their efforts need to be fine-tuned, upgraded or entirely redirected. In a marriage, feedback determines whether each partner can adapt to the needs of the individual, couple and family.

Most people, however, are uncomfortable when giving or receiving feedback. It’s one of the most important tasks to master, but we procrastinate and try to avoid it altogether. Without feedback, people remain in the dark. They have no idea how they stand with the boss, their peers or their spouse regarding what’s expected of them. Problems invariably worsen over time, so we need to use feedback to find solutions that help us adapt and adjust.

Positive vs. Negative Feedback

A partnership’s or team’s emotional health depends on how well individuals can air their grievances. Many managers are too willing to criticize, yet stingy with praise. People are more receptive to negative feedback when they’re used to receiving plenty of positive comments.

Across industries, most employees believe they don’t receive enough positive feedback. Problems are compounded when negative feedback is delayed – often because a manager is queasy about delivering it. Most problems start out small. When they’re allowed to fester, they escalate. By the time many managers decide to give feedback, there’s a backlog of frustration and anger that makes any conversation more difficult.

Early criticism allows people to correct problems, and it prevents a bad situation from boiling over. Managers should avoid giving feedback when they’re angry or inclined to be sarcastic, as the recipient will become defensive and resist change.

How to Give Effective Feedback

Constructive critiques focus on what people have done and can do, rather than targeting their character or personality. If people believe their failures result from personal, unchangeable deficits, they lose hope and stop trying. Let them know that setbacks and mistakes result from circumstances they can change.

Psychologist and corporate consultant Harry Levinson provides the following suggestions for delivering praise and criticism:

  1. Be specific. Focus on the actual behavior, using verbs instead of judgmental adjectives.
  2. Offer a solution. A critique should identify ways to fix a problem.
  3. Be present. Critiques and praise are most effective face-to-face and in private.
  4. Be sensitive. Be attuned to the impact of what you say and how you say it.

How to Receive Feedback

As a member of any group, team or partnership, you must learn to accept responsibility for your actions and accept that there’s always room for improvement. View constructive criticism as valuable information that helps you perform your job better – not as a personal attack. Feedback is beneficial because it facilitates teamwork.

Avoid the impulse toward defensiveness, which each of us innately has. Being defensive closes the door to receiving important information that can improve your work relationships and make your tasks easier. If you become upset, take a break; resume your meeting later.

Remember: Criticism is an opportunity to resolve a problem. It’s not meant to create an adversarial relationship.

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Moty Koppes is a certified master coach providing you with personal development, life coaching, relationship coaching, communication skills, personal power, life balance, career coaching, productivity enhancement, executive coaching and stress reduction in Newport Beach, Orange County, Southern California.