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Feedback is awkward!

Take a moment to think about how you feel when:

  • You have to give corrective or constructive feedback for performance change?
  • Someone has just made a comment about your performance that could be interpreted as criticism, correction or feedback?

Chances are some of the above will feel a bit uncomfortable, but this discomfort with giving or receiving feedback is not a good reason to avoid it. In fact, the assumptions people make in the absence of feedback can be a greater problem than the act of stepping up to give or receive feedback itself.

Let’s examine a few common assumptions people hold when feedback is absent:

“No news is good news – so long as I don’t have any complaints it’s all fine”.

Why is this a problem? When we stop talking about our work, we stop celebrating success, we stop seeking opportunities to learn from our own experience, and we create a culture that only focusses on problems, issues, what’s wrong and negativity.

What to do instead? Find opportunities to talk about our work, regularly, while we are at work. Have conversations about what is going well, what could be better, how we can improve, observe what isn’t working well and explore how we will share the load for any changes that we wish to make. Then celebrate success when the small changes happen.

Ask yourself:

  1. How often do we talk about our work in teams or as individuals?
  2. Do we share the good news, praise each other and congratulate success?
  3. Are we constructive in our approach to problems, issues and areas for improvement?

“I’m kept in the dark – nobody tells me anything”.

Why is this a problem? Where people feel that work issues are not transparent, talked about or shared, they may feel excluded, or that there is a vacuum in information. That vacuum will be filled with other expectations, fears, concerns. It creates a culture of silos, where the most repeated story, and often the negative story wins. Alternatively, people withdraw, get comfortable with a culture of silence, and disengage from any feedback processes.

What to do instead? Talk regularly, share progress, engage with individuals and groups about current work and next steps. Share the positive stories about individuals, your team and other teams in the workplace; be generous sharing ideas, be the role model for positive communication and receiving feedback, whether you are the leader or part of the team.

Ask yourself:

  1. Do we have clear feedback processes in place?
  2. What evidence do we have that these processes work?
  3. Are these conversations a two-way street and do we have clear evidence of reciprocity?

“Feedback? Nice idea, but we are all too busy, we’ll do it when we have time”.

Why this is a problem? A culture of ‘busy being busy’ attends to urgency and being responsive, but it may miss opportunities. Critical or creative thinking are the first victims too much busyness. We only see what is in front of us, rather than actively seeking and sharing better ways of working. Improvement is the ultimate goal of feedback, and in this environment, it may be ignored, or not activated.

What to do instead? It is counterintuitive, but this is the time to slow down, refocus, ensure we have shared goals and that they are the right goals. Create opportunities to talk about our work, that is little and often, keep the conversations in the flow of work where possible. Attach these conversations to existing work routines to ensure that they happen.

Ask yourself:

  1. Do we have any feedback that is ignored or not acted on?
  2. Are we all moving towards shared goals and are they still the right goals?
  3. Do we have regular, little and often opportunities to share ideas for progress, praise and improvement?

Yes, giving and receiving feedback can be awkward - but it is better than the alternative and the way that shapes the workplace culture. Use the questions in this article to look for patterns in your workplace feedback culture, then seek small ways to adjust and create ongoing feedback conversations.

Inspired by HBR article The Assumptions Employees Make When They Don’t Get Feedback by Deborah Grayson Riegel June 24, 2019

If you would like to discuss your workplace feedback issues and processes contact Therese La Porte, Learning and Development Manager, NZIM email