How to Give & Get Better Feedback
Building Stronger Relationships Through Feedback
by Christine Mutch | June 2023
Feedback: Most of us are loathe to give it, but really would love to receive it – from positive affirmation to constructive criticism. After all, who among us doesn’t wonder what others are *really* thinking, or want to be as effective as possible at our many roles?
The fact is, we all need help seeing both the best parts of ourselves, as well as our blind spots. Unfortunately, we don’t always know the best way to give (or ask for) helpful feedback.
Some of us struggle with being “too nice”. We don’t tell the truth for fear of others’ feelings, and/or what they will think of us. On the other hand, some of us are extremely direct, but lack kindness or empathy.
Take a look at the diagram from Radical Candor by Kim Scott to see what quadrant you may fall into. (Note: Although you may loop in/out of each of these quadrants depending on the context or relationship, chances are you probably have a default mode.)
As psychologist, author (and patron saint?), Brené Brown, says, “Clear is kind.” With that in mind, here are concrete action steps you can take to give and receive more useful feedback.
How to Give Better Feedback: Focus on Specific Behaviors
If you tell me, “Great job on that presentation!”, I often won’t believe you (assuming you’re a positive person who tells everyone that, or that you are saying this out of obligation). Even if you’re serious, it doesn’t give me any idea what I actually did a good job on – what worked well that I should continue doing?
On the flip side, if a colleague tells you “You were kind of a prick in that meeting today.”, you might believe and internalize this message about yourself. And, again, you don’t have any real idea what things you said or did that led to the comment.
Non-specific feedback does not actually help people change or sustain positive behaviors and move forward in a productive way.
To be more specific, try the Situation-Behavior-Impact–Request model adapted from Radical Candor:
During that client meeting [situation], your visionary skills were on fire! The way you painted a picture of what we could create for them and what the real impact would be was so inspiring. [behavior] I think it’s highly likely they’ll hire our team. [impact] Keep this up – it’s working! [request]
That email you sent to our staff yesterday [situation], where you called us out for not working as a team [behavior], was really demoralizing and didn’t actually give us any specific examples of things we could improve on. [impact] Can you help me understand? [request]
How to Get Better Feedback: Narrow Your Scope
If you are interested in receiving feedback from other people, don’t just spring the question: Do you have any feedback for me? It can be overwhelming for folks to know where to begin and what to address. Ideally, it’s helpful to ask people in advance of a meeting, presentation, or project if they would be willing to give you feedback.
It’s also helpful to narrow your questions to “one thing”: What is one thing I did well/should continue doing [on this project or in this situation]? What is one area I could improve [on this project or in this situation]? Even if you ask these questions on-the-spot, it is less overwhelming for the person you asked, and will likely garner you the most helpful feedback.
Managers: Don’t Rely on an “Open Door Policy”
Some managers believe that if everyone knows they have an open-door policy – meaning, “I’d love to hear what is on your mind anytime” – that their staff members will in fact come and give feedback about areas that are troubling them. No matter how well-meaning you are or how well you may actually take the feedback or ideas, the reality is that most people will not in fact walk through your door. (And, you can forget about them setting up a specific Zoom or MS Teams meeting with you. Not gonna happen.)
There are many reasons for this. At the top of the list is that people are worried about somehow putting their job or reputation in jeopardy. Other times their feedback may feel too small to necessitate walking into your (scary) office or to take up time in your (busy) schedule. Also, let’s face it – your staff members are busy handling the tyranny of the urgent and it’s easy to just let stuff go.
Rather, you need to figure out some other ongoing ways to solicit feedback.
- Individual: Each month ask your direct reports, What is one thing I can do or stop doing that would make your job easier? Or ask: What is one thing I did well/should continue doing [on this project or in this situation]? What is one area I could improve [on this project or in this situation]?
- Team: At department meetings, ask each team member to write down and then share: What is one thing about this project/approach/decision that you are most onboard with? What is one area you are most concerned about/think we could improve?
- Organization: Develop an anonymous, ongoing “suggestion box” type of format and encourage employees to regularly share their ideas and feedback, no matter how small. In fact, it is those small tiny tweaks that actually offer greater competitive advantage and also lead to greater employee satisfaction.
What’s possible if you give + receive caring and candid feedback?
You and your employees are more likely to bring their best self and best work to the table. And rather than breaking down trust, having honest conversations where people shoot straight (still with kindness) is actually a trust and relationship builder. All of this is a win for your people, your org, and your clients.
Interested in building a feedback-rich culture at your organization? Join us for Courageous Spaces.
In this experiential program, participants will gain the mindset and skillset to engage in those tough conversations for better connection, improved communication, and increased collaboration.
Meet Christine Mutch
Known for her authenticity, empathy, and wisdom, Christine is guided by 25 years of leadership, facilitation, and teaching experience. With a longing to see all people flourish, and a passion for equity and inclusion, her life’s work is to empower people to find their voice and place in the world – for the Common Good.