Or how to develop yourself the hard way.
For a long time I’ve been interested in the topic of feedback—learning from others things that allow us to grow and develop ourselves, as well as improve our cooperation with other people. Recently I’ve been wondering why it’s so rare for people in my culture (Central/Eastern Europe) to share feedback—it’s particularly surprising to me when people struggle finding things to praise for. Giving someone positive feedback feels like such an easy way to do something nice for the person, to make them feel appreciated.
My conclusion is that both giving and receiving honest feedback requires us to open up, cut through our armour all the way to our guts and become vulnerable to the other person. It takes effort from the giver to formulate it—it shows they’ve been interested in the person, and reflects their own personality and values. It makes the receiver realize someone has been observing them. It makes it very easy in this moment of vulnerability for someone to make a sarcastic joke (in self defense) and accidentally hurt the other person.
One of the hardest learnings is to simply say “Thank you” in such a situation. It takes it to the next level when the receiver of feedback can say “I appreciate your saying this, this skill is important to me and I’ve been trying to improve”, admitting their own effort and focus.
One of the most valuable and applicable learnings on the topic of feedback came from Dinah Spritzer. I was drawn to her session because of her impressive experience as a journalist. For the full version watch Dinah’s talk on a Femme Palette webinar.
Here’s what I learned from her, in a nutshell and amended with my thoughts:
Feedback you receive is there to let you grow.
- Manage up - share your fears with people up the ladder ( “I’m afraid my subordinates won’t like me”, “I’m worried I won’t be able to deliver this project on time”)
- Manage sideways - ask people to tell you if your quirk annoys them (“I know I can be loud, please let me know if that starts to bother you”). This way you will give people an opening to intervene before they start boiling with frustration.
- Manage down - cut the gossip, ask people you lead to let you know when something bothers them. Ask for their opinion and respect when they do so honestly. It may be tough for them to open up, ask specific questions like “Is there something I should stop doing? Is there something I should start doing? Would it help you if I did more of something?”
- No surprises - if you’re surprised by the performance review or feedback you received, the communication is not working. You need to ask for feedback regularly (1 on 1 instead of yearly performance review), and ask specific questions. (“Give me an example of what I could do better, what I did well”. “Is there something I could do better next time?”)
- Request a chance to do self-feedback - show you self-review and ask people for feedback, most people are supportive of your effort to change.
- Learn desensitisation - gradually expose yourself to difficult conversations. Learn to step back and see what you can do in the future. Take light criticism in small doses from people you trust, and as you get used to it, gradually ask others about more sensitive topics.
- If the devil criticises you, take the 1% - if someone you don’t trust or really dislike gives you harsh feedback that you’re tempted to reject, look for at least 1% of it that is true - and use it to grow.
- If feedback doesn’t show the road, ask for help - if it’s just criticism, ask for something actionable (“I understand you’re not satisfied with this report. How can I do it next time to do it well?”)
- See the 1% positive in the negative - you will find objectively negative things about yourself, learn to appreciate their value (“I’m rude, but that helps me get things done”)
- Express gratitude - thank the person for feedback. Appreciate that they took the effort. You want to encourage them to do it more often.
- Visualize - when you get discouraged when trying to do something new, think of the skill you already have. Visualise how it was to acquire it - how many mistakes you made, how hard it was. Eventually you did it, so you can do it again.
Feedback is someone’s biased opinion. Take it with a grain of salt.
Handling your reaction to harsh feedback
- Mourn - express how you feel in front of someone you trust.
- Wait - let your feelings cool down. Say “I need some time to process this/think this through” when you receive the feedback. Have a 24 hour no contact rule, respond only after that time has passed.
- Self Affirm - put things in perspective. Think of 10 things you did well, or the things you’re objectively great at.
- Reset - get data from people you trust, and who are honest with you (“Tell me how it really is”)
Feedback you give is there to let other people grow.
- Feedback should be framed around success - focusing on people’s weaknesses impairs them.
- Let people be problem solvers - wait before jumping with your suggestions (“When you had such problem in the past, how did you handle it?”)
- If people don’t want to look for their own solution and ask you, tell them how to fix it - (“If I were in this situation, I would do X because of Y.”)
- People avoid critics - highlighting positives is important. If you only focus on negatives, eople will drift away from you.
- Frequency is important - the feedback should be flowing non-stop. Ask the person about their preference on frequency and format.
- Ask for feedback on your feedback - learn what you can improve in the future.
- Know your goal - are you giving feedback to be right? Or to help the person grow?
- Is it my problem or theirs? - Is it just my personal preference, or do I honestly believe this is how they can grow?
- Speak about your own mistakes - put people at ease. Get into their shoes to empathise with them.
How to give feedback to your superior
- Start by complimenting them.
- Ask them for feedback on you first.
- Ask if they are nervous about receiving feedback.
- Provide your feedback in a gentle way.
Put It Into Practice
Go out there into the world and give people feedback that helps them grow, and nourishes their souls.