As I wrote my previous post, “A Challenging Boss Can Be Good For You,” I started thinking about another key workplace challenge – the challenge of getting good feedback. It’s a big hurdle for most people.
You may have reservations about making yourself vulnerable when you ask for feedback. “Do I really want to hear what they have to say? Is this going to make me feel bad? Will I be embarrassed or humiliated by what they say to me?”
You may have questions about whether you can trust what the person says? “Are they being honest with me? Are they telling me the whole truth or have they sugarcoated the message, dumbed it down or softened it to the point that it’s meaningless?” Or, you may wonder, “Did they have to bludgeon me? I could have gotten the message if they had been just a little less painfully critical.” Despite all of these concerns, feedback is what you need to help you grow and flourish.
I divide feedback into two major categories: appreciative and developmental. Appreciative feedback is a message about what you’re doing that works well and makes you effective. Literally, it’s what others appreciate and value about you. Developmental feedback contains a message about something you’re doing — or not doing – that leads others to judge your behavior as less than effective. Both types of feedback are necessary and very valuable. Appreciative feedback lets you know what you are doing that you should continue doing. Developmental feedback gives you an opportunity to consider behavioral changes that could result in increased effectiveness.
Here’s the problem I see all too often: people don’t get good feedback. In this case, good means honest and truthful feedback, whether it’s appreciative or developmental. Most often, people don’t get good feedback because their managers and supervisors don’t give it. They tend not to give it because it’s hard to do and they’re often uncertain about how the message will be received. They may be asking themselves, “Will this be more work than it’s worth?”
To grow and flourish, you need accurate information about how your behavior impacts others – how you’re perceived and experienced by those with whom you live and work. You need to understand how you impact others because, with great regularity, there is a gap between your good intentions and the way your behavior looks and feels when it lands in the world of others. Armed with good quality information, you can make wise, informed decisions about repeating behaviors that support your success and choosing new behaviors where change is warranted.
So, here’s a strategy…ask your manager/supervisor for feedback. Ask to set aside some time on their calendar for a conversation about your performance. Scheduling time to talk will make it less likely you’ll be interrupted.
Here are a couple of questions that are open-ended and work well:
- What do you see me doing that works well and helps me to be effective? (Appreciative feedback)
- What are a couple of things you would suggest I do differently, to be even more effective? (Developmental feedback)
Now, here’s the hard part. After you ask question #1, be quiet and listen. Make notes of what the person says. Do NOT debate with them or explain yourself, or agree or disagree. Listen, note key words and phrases, and say, “Thank you.”
Then, go to question #2. Ask the question, then be quiet and listen. Don’t debate, agree, disagree, or make excuses or give explanations for why you do what you do. Just listen and take in what the person says. Make it easy for them to share their truth with you. Be sure to note the suggestions they provide and to thank them for being forthright and helpful.
Here are 4 tips to keep in mind:
- Breathe deeply to stay relaxed and present.
- Remember, this is NOT a conversation. Don’t dialogue back and forth. It’s a data gathering session. Ask your questions. Listen well. Take good notes.
- If you are unclear about a point, ask, “Would you mind clarifying that for me so that I fully understand.” Be sure to use a tone of voice and non-verbals that convey openness.
- End the meeting with, “Thank you!” It takes a lot for people to give feedback, even when it’s their job. A certain amount of personal courage is required and framing feedback so it’s clear also takes mental and emotional energy. Accept whatever the person has offered as a generous gift.
Here’s an important fact to remember: you can do with feedback whatever you want. You decide. You can use it or you can ignore. The choice is yours, as is the consequence of your choice. The giver will be watching. If you use the information constructively, you predispose the giver to be open with you the next time you ask, or the next time they hear something said about you or your work that they think you ought to know.