Seeking and Providing Feedback

In the course of a conversation this week, a colleague and I discussed how we’ve learned that others don’t always see us for who we are. Even when we’ve tried to be open and authentic and operate with the best of intentions, others may see something quite different.

This really hammered home for me several years ago when a woman I worked with who had become a good friend told me she was glad she’d had a chance to get to know me. She was glad because she learned I wasn’t at all the kind of person she had perceived me to be. When I pressed her for an explanation she said she used to be afraid of me. She went on to explain her opinion had been formed because she always saw me walking briskly through the halls looking grim and intense.

That truly rocked me because I had been carrying around an image of myself as someone who others saw as being warm and approachable when it seemed the reality was something quite different.

The exchange was quite helpful because in addition to making a conscious effort to smile more, it also helped me to understand the importance of seeking feedback from others.  As my colleague and I went on to discuss, getting feedback from others is essential if we are to learn and grow.

Another one of our team members is diligent about deliberately seeking 360 degree feedback. He does it by asking three specific questions: What do I do well that I should continue to do?  What can I do more of to be more effective? What can I do less of to be more effective?  His commitment to ongoing growth and development is evident in the follow up action he takes based on what he hears.

His approach is a positive one because it ensures a mixture of both positive and challenging feedback. Experts suggest we practice the 7:1 rule in providing feedback. This means we should provide seven examples of genuine and specific feedback for each piece of developmental feedback. It also helps to make sure feedback about less than acceptable habits or behaviours is provided in neutral terms. One of the best ways I’ve ever heard for learning how to do that is to think of providing the feedback from the perspective of a video camera. Pretend you have a video camera focused on them and describe what you can see them actually doing – the good as well as the bad. 

In an ideal situation, each of us would have trusted, kind, and respectful relationships in place with family members, friends, and colleagues who can provide feedback on an informal, ongoing basis. I experienced this recently when shortly after a conference call, one of my team members shared with me that she thought I had come across as being a bit inflexible. Rather than being annoyed I was grateful she felt she could share that feedback with me as it made me realize I had let my personal stress levels spill over into my interactions with the team.  Her feedback gave me a heads up so I could restate and clarify my position with the team but it also made me feel good because it showed she was looking out for me.

While it may not be easy to deliver developmental feedback to one another, it gets easier if you think of it as being a good girlfriend. The good girlfriend is the one who cares about you enough to tell you that you have a piece of broccoli stuck between your teeth. 

Posted on 08-31-09

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