Feeback comes up constantly in my work. Many people struggle to give it – fearing those “tough conversations”. Others hate receiving it – almost hearing it as criticism of them as individuals. The questions for me are:

  • How might we reset this relationship?
  • How might we think differently about feedback?

Giving Feedback

There are a couple of key points to consider when giving feedback:

  • What is my intention? If you have a clear message you want to communicate just focus on that. Giving too much information or having multiple intentions will likely lead to confusion. But also be honest with yourself:
    • Why am I giving this feedback?
    • What outcome do I want to achieve?
    • What do I want the other person to hear?
  • What are the other person’s concerns? We cannot get inside other people’s heads and yet, if we have any sort of relationship, we likely have some sense for how they see the world.
    • Are they concerned about getting fired?
    • About not getting the next promotion?
    • About being seen in a bad light?
    • About being treated unfairly?
    • What might trigger their defensiveness?
    • How might we defuse that?
  • Do I ask for feedback? Giving feedback and not asking for any can lead to a power imbalance. I have certainly seen leaders defuse potentially tricky situations by simply asking for feedback from their team members – How can I support you better? Most leaders also love when their team members ask for positive feedback – How can I contribute more?
  • How am I delivering this feedback? Context is everything in human affairs. Feedback is not just about the words spoken but also about the intentions behind them and the perceptions they create. It is therefore worth giving some thought to how you give the feedback – tone used – language used – on the far side of a big desk – alongside a colleague as you go for a walk – over a coffee in a canteen. Informal is not necessarily “better”, but it is different and is worth considering if you feel it will increase the chances of the message landing.

And that ultimately is the objective: to have an open conversation that increases the chances of the message being received. Triggering defensiveness will simply increase the chances of some other message being heard.

Receiving Feedback

It can be challenging to dismiss emotions such as fear or unfairness. It can be much more effective to simply replace them with other feelings – in this instance deep gratitude for the gift you are receiving.

  • If you do feel defensive, that is wonderful information – become curious, why am I feeling defensive?
    • How do I feel threatened?
    • By the person? What they are saying? How they are saying it?
    • Because it reminds me of other feedback I received?
  • Remember this is one person’s view. It is inevitably coloured by how they see the world and may be as much, or more, about themselves as it is about you or your organisation. The invitation is thus not to assume it represents some deep truth and instead see it neutrally as information.
    • What must be true for them for this feedback to “make sense”?
    • Is there anything in the feedback you know in your soul to be true?
    • What insights does it offer?
    • What might you do with these insights?

Questions in the Image:

  • What is my relationship with feedback?
  • How might I reset this relationship?
  • How might I think differently about feedback?

Want to Read More Around This Topic?

Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen (link to Amazon.co.uk). The authors delve deep into the challenge of receiving feedback, even when it may feel off base, unfair, poorly delivered or even harsh. The authors discuss the importance of understanding one’s reactions to feedback and how to manage those reactions. It provides actionable strategies for extracting valuable insights from any feedback.

Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day. An aching body after a workout prompts the question: Did I push myself too hard today? And equally, am I pushing myself hard enough on other days?

What Thoughts Would You Like to Share? My name is Tom O’Leary, and I envision a world in which curiosity shapes leadership. In this world, leaders aren’t boxed in by traditional thinking or established playbooks. They are open to fresh ideas and diverse perspectives, fostering a culture of exploration and learning. My mission is to shift leadership focus from authority, over-measurement and control to curiosity, learning and innovation, empowering leaders to prioritise the essential. My journey, lived in a number of countries and through various languages, has always been driven by a profound sense of curiosity. In fact, life has taught me that possibility lies not so much in seeking answers but in learning to ask better questions – the ones that help prioritise what is truly essential. I welcome your thoughts, feedback, or personal experiences related to these questions or any insights they may have sparked.