How to succeed at feedback

feedbackFeedback. Does this word make you feel uncomfortable? Perhaps just the thought fills you with dread?

Asking for feedback can be awkward – for both the asker and the askee. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

At the recent Gather Unconference I went to Genny Stevens’ session on giving and receiving feedback. It was great to hear what she had to say. It reinforced some things I knew but I also learned a lot.

Here are some of my key takeaways from the session.

Giving feedback
Genny shared a new technique for giving feedback called the Feedback Wrap Model.

Forget about the awful feedback sandwich – you know, when you sneak feedback in between two pieces of praise?

“You’re fun to work with, but here’s how you suck, and you’re always on time to meetings!”

The feedback sandwich feels awkward and inauthentic. The feedback wrap, on the other hand, follows an intentional five-step process. Instead of ‘sandwiching’ the feedback between two insincere comments, it ‘wraps’ the feedback with context, observations, and suggestions. The result? Clear and sincere communication that’s honest without being blunt or inconsiderate.

Giving feedback is actually a good thing; it shows people you’re paying attention and that you care about their progress. Noticing and helping others is a great way for them to notice and help you. Feedback is a two-way street.

Asking for feedback
I believe that it’s even more important to ask for feedback than it is to give it to others. Why? Because we have blindspots about ourselves. We need feedback to know what we’re doing well and what we could improve.

Asking for feedback shows that you’re taking ownership of your work. And the more you practice asking others for their feedback, the easier it will be to cope with unsolicited feedback when it arises.

The main things to remember when asking for feedback are to be specific and to give people ‘permission’ to be honest with you. Instead of asking “Am I doing okay?”, relate your question to a real situation such as “I don’t think I managed that last meeting very well. What do you think I could improve for next time?”. If you want more general feedback you could ask something like “I am keen to develop my skills so I can do better at work. I value your opinion – could you give me a couple of suggestions on what I could do to improve?”

Some good questions to ask in relation to specific situations include:

“Am I on the right track?”
“What can I do to prepare?”
“Which skills would be valuable for me to grow?”

If asking feels uncomfortable, start by actively listening to what others say about or around you. They may be already telling you a lot without directly talking to you.

Coping with feedback

Asking for feedback is one thing; coping with it is something else altogether. It’s hard to receive feedback that’s not entirely positive, especially if the person giving it isn’t sensitive to your feelings. But remember – you don’t need to take on board everything that they say.

I believe a simple ‘thanks’ is enough. That’s it. You don’t need to justify yourself or explain further. Give yourself time to mull over their suggestions, decide if any are useful and then any further actions you’d like to take.

Receiving and responding to feedback is, after all, a personal journey. You get to decide how it shapes your future.