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 Award-winning business author and broadcaster

Leadership trainer and coach

Keynote speaker

  • Writer's pictureAudrey Tang

Let me give you feedback on your feedback

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

"I'm always happy to learn - but not necessarily for you to benefit"

I give feedback all the time, it's an integral part of my job. Duly, I have learned the various methods of giving feedback (and tried, tested and disregarded the ones that seem false or downright unhelpful), I use challenge and nurture; I sometimes ask if I am able to offer observations; and sometimes we just have a laugh and explore "WTF"! But that's just me.

I receive feedback as well having been evaluated, supervised, mentored, graded and observed - again as an integral part of my job. I have learned a lot through your view of me via the Johari Window, I even take on board some comments and points raised from strangers on social media platforms who cared enough to take an interest and my Escape Room business always responds to TripAdvisor. Constructive feedback makes me better and one can always strive to be better.

But let me give you a word of advice.

The most effective feedback happens when there has been a rapport built up. Even if the power dynamic means that feedback needs to be given (eg. a teacher to a student, a manager to a team member). The reason for that is - the feedback that comes through building a rapport is the feedback that is most likely to be worked on (positively). ...and the purpose of feedback is for the recipient to be able to use it to develop (and/or praise) themselves. Any other feedback - depending on the person and how willing they are to please - may certainly be taken on board, but can be done so in a way where the person doing it chastises themselves and feels all the worse for it, and while the thing fed back on changes, the rest of them gets yet more down. Most likely however, if there is no rapport - the response to some extent will be "No - I don't accept that - you are wrong."

Perhaps it doesn't matter too much to you whether that person changes or not (at least not for themselves). Perhaps you can move on and hope they will find someone with whom they connect enough to listen. But the problem is - sometimes, for you it doesmatter if they change. Perhaps you want them to change because otherwise you need to fire them. Perhaps you want them to change because they will become a "success story" for you. Perhaps you want them to change because then you don't need to explain to the board what the problem is.

The problem is those desires are for you not them. We have no right to change others - and that is doubly true if you want them to fit to your ideal. The role of feedback is to highlight areas which are to be praised or developed - and let the person use it in their own way - for themselves. Not you.

I was recently given some feedback from someone who has spent little time getting to know me - and in fact in most correspondence has acted in such a way where he has exulted his superiority (of position). While the feedback was aimed at a common organisational goal (which I can appreciate) - the manner in which it was done brought an immediate reaction of "Ok - as soon as I fix those things, I'll just take the better me somewhere else." (I'm always happy to learn - but not necessarily for you to benefit!)

If you are giving feedback - and the changes will benefit you as well as the recipient, then rapport is important if you are to keep them - especially the "new" "improved" them!

So here are a few tips:

1.If you haven't built up a rapport, asserting your position is not the best way to get feedback heard. In this case, at least consider acknowledging why this hasn't happened, and make it clear that feedback isn't meant to be threatening. (Please don't go into a meeting with a team member whose name you don't even know and start with "Hi, how are you? How's your family?" (or similar) - it's bad enough going to your office, don't prolong it with false niceties.) A simple "Hi, I'm sorry I've not had the chance to sit down with you properly..." can do more than asking about the life you've not concerned yourself with until now! (Then look at how you can build that missing rapport!)

2. Make feedback specific. If you are talking about content - state that. If you are talking about skill, state that. Merely saying something such as "You write about budget" as a positive on a report is probably a true statement - but what does it mean? Similarly, don't just say "good" - identify why!

3. Offer suggestions for improvement if you have been critical - but realise that there may be other (and better) ones out there. Even ask what the person you are feeding back to might suggest - you could learn something!

Feedback is an exploratory or discursive process. Work together to put in a plan of action, decide where and why development is wanted (or needed - and yes, if there is a negative consequence without improvement state it because then the recipient can make their choices fully informed of the outcomes of action or inaction), and remember as long as the goal is achieved at the time you agree, the pathway to achievement can vary, and help along the way must be offered.

But most importantly, look at your relationship with recipients of your feedback. Getting that bit wrong at best means you get a minimal improvement because of fear of extraneous consequence...enough so you can't fire them(!)...and at worst you'll get a huge improvement from which another company who can conduct themselves just that little bit more supportively will benefit.

Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt

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