• Joumana Elomar

Mastering the Art of Feedback

Feedback is all around us. Whether it's in our professional or personal worlds, we're continually giving and receiving feedback. Every single cue—every word, every pause, every glance—is feedback. Even what we don't say speaks volumes.

Yet too often feedback is delivered without intention or depth of thought: "You could have done that better" "Why would you do it that way?" "Okay but..." These off the cuff comments lead to ineffective results. So in a world where feedback is inescapable, how might we optimise the way we give and receive it?

Giving feedback

When it comes to giving feedback, there's no one-size-fits-all. Effective delivery depends on who, what and when. Who you're speaking to, what you need to say and when you need to say it.

Applying these strategies can help:

  1. Reflect on your audience. Ask yourself: How does their mental model match mine? What's their level of confidence? How sensitive are they? What's their position in relationship to mine? This should help you structure your feedback and choose your language.

  2. Think about timing. A huge part of communication is timing. If you approach someone after a rough day or by surprise, you should rethink it. If the person isn't in the right headspace, then the feedback will be ineffective.

  3. Ask for permission. Unless there's an established feedback environment, ask for permission. This creates a sense of agency for the receiver, and means your feedback will be better received. You can open the conversation with variations of: "May I offer an observation?" "Would you be open to hearing some feedback?" "I'm curious about ____. Would you be willing to speak about it?"

  4. Establish the goal. All feedback should start with the goal. This helps align the conversation and depersonalise the comments. With interpersonal feedback that might be tough to hear, remember to remind them that you care. In one experiment, people were at least 40 percent more receptive to feedback after being told "I'm giving you these comments because I have high expectations and I know that you can reach them...".

  5. Be specific and realistic. Don't dance around the truth. There's almost nothing worse than vague or dishonest feedback. If there's something you believe they can improve on and it's relevant, speak up. Remember: Focus the feedback on the behaviour. Give positive feedback (it's reinforces good behaviour!). Roses before thorns (Start with something you like).

  6. Ask for their perspective but avoid why questions. Questions like "How do you feel you went?" "Want to dig deeper?" "Is there anything you think needs to be clarified?" open up the conversation and make them feel less one-sided. However keep in mind, people tend to feel attacked when they hear why questions. So soften them by saying: "What makes you..." "What caused you to..." "How do you.."

Receiving feedback

On the flipside, receiving feedback can be equally challenging.

But these strategies might help:

  1. Ask for feedback. If you lead a team or seem closed-off to feedback, many people will be afraid or nervous to speak up. Fostering psychological safety is your silver bullet. Asking things like "Is there anything you think I can do better?" and creating space "No need to let me know now, just something to think about for next time" can craft a safe space for your team to share.

  2. Listen, don't defend. Really listen to what they're saying. It's okay if you disagree from the outset, there may be a possibility that this feedback will help you! Try not interrupt.

  3. Make sure you understand the feedback. It's not useful to you if it leaves you with more questions, so make you sure clarify anything you're unsure about. This can also be an opportunity to ask the other person if they have any suggestions for you to improve.

  4. Thank them for the feedback. Feedback can be extremely difficult to give. Many people opt to stay silent, so when you receive it cherish it. It's a gift for you to consider!

  5. Reflect on the feedback. After the conversation has ended, take the time to mull it over. You don't need to implement all feedback, so assess whether it's useful to you or not. It can be helpful to keep a feedback bank too, and review this quarterly.

Wrapping up

Giving and receiving feedback can be challenging. But it's one the greatest tools we can use to improve. Using these strategies, we have the power to positively shift the trajectory of our paths. In a world where feedback is inescapable, mastering the art of feedback has never been more important. After all, if you master it it'll never master you!