What word would you use to describe feedback?
Fabulous, flaming, flippin’, fruity, fortuitous, fortunate, frivolous, fantastic…. Or maybe another word not beginning with the letter F… or then again maybe the other F word!
I think your chosen word will depend on what kind of feedback it is, who the feedback is coming from and the purpose or intent with which it is given.
I have a weird sadistic kind of relationship with feedback. I proactively seek it out, the good the bad and the ugly! For someone who proactively avoids being the centre of attention, I strangely put myself well and truly under the spotlight when it comes to receiving feedback. Over the years I’ve started to consciously notice this pattern of behaviour and the associated consequences, both good and bad. Like with everything, there’s always 2 sides to the coin.
Why is feedback important?
Delivered with honesty, integrity and genuine positive intent, feedback can be one of the most precious things you will ever receive. From a simple “thank you for your help, I couldn’t have done it without you” to “that was a shockingly bad example of how not to do it” and believe me I’ve had both, it provides eye wateringly (sometimes literally) good information on which to reflect and act, if you choose.
It can help us
- to feel valued, recognised and rewarded,
- to feel supported and encouraged,
- to build on our strengths,
- to find ways to work on and/or find ways around our lesser strengths,
- to learn and grow,
- to constructively analyse our performance,
- to build trusting relationships,
- to see what we can’t always see,
- to find a new perspective,
- to confront those things that hold us back or mean we don’t always shine as brightly, and
- to accept where our limits might lie…maybe!
Does it always feel good?
Hell no! Feedback can often make us feel very vulnerable. Brene Brown in her book ‘Daring Greatly’ would argue that leaders need to go through the discomfort of engaging with vulnerability to be great leaders. Part of this is about being willing to hear, really hear, honest feedback and do something with it. The good, the bad and the ugly! If you think about the piece of feedback as a new opportunity, what might be possible? Learn to get curious about it. Where is that response to feedback coming from and what do you really want to do about it?
As one of my colleagues said “we welcome all feedback, sometimes with gritted teeth, but often that feedback is the most helpful of all”.
I was once sat in a circle of 27 relative strangers, having completed my first round of coach training. I can remember everything about it, the size of the room, the faces staring at me, the chair I was sat on, the window behind me and the person at the front of the room who offered me some feedback. It was one word I will never forget… “Useful”. Useful!!! Useful!!! Let me say it again, useful!!!! Urgh!! What kind of boring unhelpful word is that?!! Can openers are useful. Wellies are useful. Is that all I was.? Useful. That was all they offered, no explanation and I was told to just “let it land”. This was after I’d heard the same person using such beautiful descriptors of pretty much everyone else in the room, or that’s how I thought I’d heard it. I wanted to offer something just as bland back in return and then storm out of the room, but I just sat there and said “Useful. Thank you.” Sigh.
As a wiser and older coach, I now know what the term “let it land” really means and I hear myself using it often with clients. It’s about sitting with the discomfort, feeling vulnerable, and then deciding how best to use it. I still have a visceral reaction to that word today, but it’s probably been the most helpful piece of feedback I’ve ever received. I now know, after lots of internal reflection and a good deal of acceptance, what it means for me to be “useful” and how I use that piece of feedback almost every day to be the kind of person and the kind of coach I want to be. I still don’t like to use the word ‘useful’ but have come up with my own list of words that I think describe what I am and what I do better!
When is feedback less helpful?
Feedback delivered quickly, poorly timed, without meaning, without positive intent, emotionally, inaccurately and without responsibility or accountability, can do damage. Often, it’s not feedback at all, just criticism.
- trigger lots of emotional responses, such as feelings of shame, inadequacy, worthlessness, or anger
- reinforce unhelpful assumptions and limiting beliefs
- trigger ‘more of the same’ behaviour or worse
- lead to confusion around what to do with that information as a result
- develop into unproductive and/or confrontational relationships
None of which are helpful or even, dare I say, useful!
So what do you do with feedback?
- Handle with care – whether receiving feedback or giving feedback, handle your precious cargo with the care and the attention it deserves
- Step back and reflect – explicit or implied, constructive feedback can raise our awareness, deepen our learning and provide great insight
- Accept it – work with it, not against it. It takes courage and vulnerability to face up to both the good, the bad and the ugly!
- Learn to let it go – Not all “feedback” is well intended or helpful. With greater self-awareness you can learn to identify the difference. Know that feedback is only the other person’s point of view. Who determines whether they’re right or wrong, or whether you choose to listen? You do!
- Turn it into powerful fuel – Reframe and refocus on how it might serve you better, enabling your journey towards your biggest and brightest self.
For all those out there willing to offer feedback, be kind, be compassionate, and make it useful!!
For all those out there receiving feedback, embrace it, own it, and make it useful!
If you’re struggling with feedback and what to do with it, giving or receiving, please get in touch.