Yeah, we all know about it – the trouble with most feedback is that it is often unwelcome, badly timed, badly targeted and almost impossible to react to in any positive way, apart from swallowing hard and getting on with things.

In training circles, it is often said that “you are only as good as your last feedback”

Most people see feedback as a negative and counter-productive process, mainly due to the way that feedback has been given in the past, but it doesn’t have to be that way, and in fact it shouldn’t.

We are often our own worst enemies as far as getting and giving feedback goes. Imagine the scene someone has just delivered a presentation then approaches a colleague with the question, “How was I”? or “Can you give me some feedback on my presentation”?

Have you ever been in the position, yeah, I thought so, not very comfortable is it?

In fact we are offered two contrasting options; either we say that the presentation was the worst we have ever seen in our lives and that we don’t know what he or she was thinking of when doing the presentation, or something of the like. OK, we wouldn’t say that but we may be thinking this to ourselves.

The second option is just as useless as far as constructive feedback goes, as we stutter and say, “yeah, that was just great” or “you were fantastic”.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I know very well when my presentation is good and when it is bad, and when somebody tells me that it was good, well that is just no help at all. And what does “good” mean anyhow? Come to think of it, what does “bad” mean too?

Basically feedback is a dialogue – a two way process that has to be prepared beforehand and acted on afterwards, so the only ways that effective actions can be triggered are directly linked to the quality of the feedback that we receive.

Another important point regarding feedback is that you are responsible for the quality of the feedback that you receive.

Now that may seem hard, especially if you have just come out of a pretty negative feedback session. But the fact of the matter is that you, and you alone, are responsible for empowering others to give the sort of feedback that you get.

I am not talking about uninvited feedback that is given in a pell-mell fashion from people who may or not mean well – here we are talking about feedback that you have actively, if not clumsily, sought out.

Here are a few tips for getting and giving quality feedback:Giving Feedback

Describe something positive and ensure that you always give the “bad news sandwich” – open by describing something positive, express the constructive criticism in terms of “I” – it is after all – only your own personal perception, nothing is written in stone.

There is no point in telling a person that they were stressed – if they were, they knew this anyway – it would be more helpful to describe what you saw from an “I” perspective and give specific examples and articulate on why you had this impression.

Give specific examples with ideas on what can be improved and offering solutions or help and finally close with a positive statement.

Soliciting Feedback

Identify people you trust, don’t just ask anybody who happens to be around, you need reliable, trustworthy feedback from reliable, trustworthy people and make sure that you ask them in advance whilst articulating specific issues that you would like the feedback on.

Receiving Feedback

Develop receptive attitudes, so that the person giving you feedback does not feel uncomfortable, listen carefully without interrupting and take notes if needed.

Ask for specifics, rephrase and paraphrase to ensure that you fully understand what is being said. Accept responsibility and never argue with feedback, deny or defend it – that is if you would like to get further feedback!

If you do need to correct the person, do so, but not in a defensive way and never overreact, try to find the truths in the perceptions and finally be gracious and thank the person for the feedback.

Don’t forget that you can also communicate without opening your mouth – sighing, avoiding eye-contact, slumped posture sends a message that is not encouraging to your interlocutor.

Give visual feedback with non-verbal expressions and gestures (e.g., nodding) – i.e. active listening skills. These let your interlocutor know that you are listening and understanding what they have to say.

Be patient, a  desire to provide quick fix solutions to issues puts up barriers to free-flowing communication. “You don’t have to finish, I know what you are going to say,” is a sure way of letting the speaker know that you have little time, interest or confidence in their ability to solve issues.

Don’t mentally argue. If you are developing arguments in your mind as the speaker talks you are probably not listening and missing much of the message. Acknowledge the ideas of the person giving the feedback – this doesn’t mean that you agree with them, but it does mean that you feel their ideas are worth listening to and will probably mean that they are more willing in future to give you more constructive feedback.

Try to take a step back and evaluate yourself alongside the feedback that you have received – then action the issues that emerge from the feedback received.

There is a difference between feedback and criticism; criticism being used when trying to stop undesirable behavior, which often hurts relationships – bad feedback has similar effects, as it basically boils down to negative criticism.

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