Emails. Comments. Blog posts. Tweets. Phone calls. Emojis. Meetings. Family gatherings. Interventions. Silence.
From parents, bosses, colleagues, friends, lovers and random people on the internet.
There are more ways to give feedback than we can count on the spot. In fact, we often get more feedback than we can handle. Truth be told, most of us suck at receiving feedback and we’re only slightly better at giving it, provided we try to improve at this.
Why? Because I strongly believe that this is one of the most important pathways to growth in every aspect of our lives.
In the last 2 years, I’ve consistently made giving and receiving feedback a priority and it’s made a huge difference for me.
The people who read it swear by this book, myself included. It can make a great present for yourself and others. I guarantee that it’ll change your perspective *and* give you the tools to apply what you learn.
This book is a keeper and worth reading again and again.
Here’s what I learned from it, from Seth (Godin, of course), mentors, smart people on the internet and from practicing the stuff I deemed worthwhile.
TYPES OF FEEDBACK:
- appreciation – “thanks”
- coaching – “here’s a better way to do it”
- evaluation – “here’s where you stand”
There are many nuances to feedback and often that’s just what we miss to notice.
We sometimes fear giving feedback for the same reason we’re scared to receive it:
“Identity is the story we tell ourselves about who we are and what the future holds for us, and when critical feedback is incoming, that story is under attack.”
That’s why I believe there’s a lot of value in understanding how to break down feedback and how to give meaningful, helpful one that helps others and yourself grow.
When I look back at my own experience, there are a few essential things that this process gave me:
- context – as I mentioned in previous newsletters, I try to be acutely aware that our brain oversimplifies things and escape this; feedback is a rich way of getting more information that you might otherwise miss
- perspective – a new way frame situations and decisions that sometimes turned my view of things on its head (those a-ha! moments are priceless!); new, unexpected possibilities emerged as a result
- objectivity – by better understanding the context and by changing my perspective I managed to reach a higher level of objectivity which is sometimes difficult to achieve in a vacuum, wrestling with your mind; feedback-focused conversations are excellent for stimulating critical thinking which invites more objectivity into your mental models
- clarity – by answering questions in these conversations I got to peel away until I reached the essential (What is it for? Who is it for?); context, perspective, and objectivity are also prerequisites for clarity and sharpness of mind
- connection – when discussing feedback without fear of judgment, you can build bridges between people, the like you rarely anticipate (this Heineken ad from 2014 is an excellent example).
When giving feedback, I strive to distinguish between the 3 types mentioned above. Knowing why I’m doing it immediately clarifies what I should focus on.
For example, at work, I had one to one sessions with my manager and mentor while also having them with each member in my team.
These sessions were led by them (or me, in the former case) and often included a mix of appreciation and coaching.
Evaluation sessions were separated, so we always knew where we stand and what we’re discussing. That level of alignment created a safe space for us to talk about our vulnerabilities and our hopes, without fear of judgment. It also helped us further cultivate a growth mindset.
As a manager, this is one of the best things you can do for your team. I’ve seen it work wonders in my case and I’ve also observed this working with friends and, rarely, even family.
“Explicit disagreement is better than implicit misunderstanding.”
Here are some ways to look at giving feedback:
- give it from a place of empathy – this is not for criticizing;
- give it from a place of curiosity – ask questions and seek to understand the context + this is not for evaluation;
- give it in a way that’s helpful – observe the person you give feedback to, how they talk, how they react and try to help them explore what they’re scared of or what they cannot articulate yet
- give it without making it about you – this is about the person you’re giving feedback to and what you can learn with them;
- give your analysis, not your opinion:
“What I want instead of your opinion is your analysis. Analysis is a lot harder than opinion because everyone is entitled to his or her own taste (regardless of how skewed it might be). A faulty analysis, however, is easy to dismantle.”
“Thanks for the feedback” is chockful* of practical advice on how to:
- structure a conversation for giving feedback
- set boundaries by providing context
- build accountability and create action plans
- “unpack judgment from evaluation”
- develop a fair and useful evaluation.
*I learned this word from the Gilmore Girls. Lorelai would be proud.
“Effective assertion hinges on a key mindset shift: you aren’t seeking to persuade the giver that you are right. You’re not trying to replace their truth with your truth. Instead, you’re adding what’s “left out”. And what’s most often left out is your data, your interpretations and your feelings.”
Whenever most people think of feedback, their first reaction is to become defensive. It happens to me more often than I’d like to admit, that’s for sure!
We’re wired to seek acceptance and not risk being pushed out of the tribe, we shun negative feedback.
As a consequence, it’s not easy to go against our primal instincts, so cultivating a habit of asking for feedback and openly receiving it takes effort.
Negative feedback may be difficult to take in but it is essential for leveling up!
“Receiving feedback sits at the intersection of these two needs—our drive to learn and our longing for acceptance.”
What we can do to reconcile these two deeply ingrained desires is define whose acceptance we seek and why.
The standard you use to evaluate yourself and others will either put you on a learning path (growth mindset) or entrench you in a fixed mindset.
Learning from criticism is not just about ignoring ridicule or oversimplification. It is also about understanding how your message come across for people who lack your context and personal perspective.
“It doesn’t matter how much authority or power a feedback giver has; the receivers are in control of what they do and don’t let in, how they make sense of what they’re hearing, and whether they choose to change.
Pushing harder rarely opens the door to genuine learning.
The focus should not be on teaching feedback givers to give. The focus — at work and at home — should be on feedback receivers, helping us all to become more skillful learners.”
One way to learn from it is to take time to reflect on negative feedback and uncover things that usually sit in our “blind spot”.
Here are some smart questions from “Thanks for the Feedback” you can use to start:
- What was on their agenda?
- I wonder if this feedback is sitting in my blind spot?
- What do you see me doing or failing to do that is getting in my own way?
- If the feedback is about right now, am I turning into always – always was, always will be?
- If the feedback is about a specific skill or action, am I turning it into all of my skills and all of my actions?
- If it’s from one person, am I imagining it’s from everyone?
We could all use keeping this in mind as well:
In decisions both big and small, we make mistakes. Our intentions are complex and we’re always somehow involved in the problem at hand.
Learning how to separate feeling, story, and feedback is something that can help us gain clarity and guide us towards the real interests of the person who’s giving us a piece of their mind.
When we understand their real interest, that’s when we can “create options” that work for everyone involved. Making this part of the conversation makes things easier for everyone involved.
One way to look at receiving feedback is that “you can delight in the fact that someone cares enough to speak up“, as Seth writes.
I hope you’ll embrace feedback as a way to guide you to your best decisions for the remainder of this year and for the next one.
P.S. This was originally sent on December 15th, 2018 (with minor updates added to reflect my current habits).
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