By Francine Provost, EKIP Training and Consulting
Sonia was just getting ready to head home after a long and busy day when a colleague comes to her desk and says: “Your approach in this document is all wrong! Management will never read your report!” Feedback? It smells more like criticism to me.
Criticism is not only emotionally painful but it rarely accomplishes what we want, i.e. better results.
So why do we use criticism rather than helpful feedback?
Maybe we fear giving feedback because we know the pain it can cause; therefore, we put off a confrontation and let a simple problem grow out of proportion. When we can’t take it anymore, we criticize or explode — two negative reactions. If you want to avoid exploding or reacting poorly to criticism, here are four tips to help you become competent at providing and receiving feedback.
1. Develop the attitude to give and receive feedback in a spirit of learning
I like to receive compliments of course, but I realize it’s only one side of the coin. We need both positive and constructive comments to learn and grow. Imagine a GPS without the famous phrase, “In one kilometre, turn right”; instead, you hear, “Recalculating route” every time you make a wrong turn. How would you know where to go? You would certainly know where NOT to go, but that doesn’t help you get to the proper destination. So the GPS is giving you corrective action to get you back on the right “track”.
Like the GPS voice, we need to use helpful feedback as a mechanism to acknowledge what is working well, and to show how things can be done differently.
If you’re using an approach like that of Sonia’s colleague, you might create resentment rather than correcting the situation and making future situations much better. Great, but how? By observing a few simple rules:
- Be specific: State exactly what action, behaviour or result is the issue – absolutely avoid generalization; instead, be specific, for example, “The document you prepared is missing an executive summary and a table of contents”.
- Highlight impact: Express what impact the behaviour or error has on the situation; for example, “When management looks at your report, they will be looking for the end results first and when they don’t find these results, they might decide not to read your report”.
- Ask or recommend new action: “Can you please prepare a one page summary to place at the beginning of the document and also generate a table of contents? Thank you.
- Highlight impact: “This way, you increase your chances of management reading your report and quickly finding the information they need to make better decisions.”
3. Develop the communication skills to effectively receive feedback
If Sonia reacts aggressively she might say, “My approach in this report is perfectly all right; you can keep your opinions to yourself!” Or she might have a more passive reaction by not saying anything and feeling that she can’t do anything right.
The best way to respond to feedback is not to react too quickly. You can choose to evaluate and respond rather than react, perhaps angrily. Ask yourself what you can learn from that feedback. In the example above, Sonia could ask her colleague, “What part is not working? Give me more information.” Remember that you’re in charge of deciding to agree with all or part of the feedback, but you don’t have to react negatively or aggressively … just respond.
4. Practice with small items
Attitude certainly does not change overnight and communication skills are something we continue learning our entire life. So start right now with baby steps; start by providing positive feedback. Try telling a colleague one small thing you need him or her to do differently, to start doing, or to stop doing. Or maybe you would feel safer practicing with friends and family. Whatever your situation, the important thing is to start making small changes: first in your attitude about feedback and second in practicing these important communication skills.
Suppose Sonia’s colleague had said to her, “Sonia, you worked hard on this document and it looks good. We need one small adjustment because it’s missing an executive summary and a table of contents. When management looks at your report, they will be looking for the end results first and when they don’t find these results, they might skip reading your report.
So, can you please prepare a one page summary to place at the beginning of the document and generate a table of contents? By doing so, you’ll get a greater chance to get the results you need. Thank you for making the extra effort”. Do you think Sonia’s reaction would have been negative?
Try one example of constructive feedback and let me know how it worked for you.