I recently worked with a group of leaders in a leadership communication workshop.
One of the activities involved standing and delivering a short talk to the peers in the room.
I sat at the back of the room and wrote feedback for each participant on a colored index card, then distributed the cards before they practiced again. You should have seen the reactions to my feedback.
Curiosity. Interest. Appreciation. Delight.
Why was the response so positive? Was it because I wrote magic words on the cards?
Perhaps it was the intense glow of my coaching wisdom? Maybe my nice handwriting?It was none of the above.
My words are not magic, I am not that wise, and my handwriting sucks.
What Makes People Appreciate Feedback?
The main reason for the positive reaction was the fact that in the workplace, people seldom receive feedback designed to help them improve.
They may get feedback on their performance, but too often the focus is only on the results, not behavior or process.
Don’t just tell me I did something wrong. Help me figure out how to create better results.This is the feedback people want.
Another issue is with the way people deliver feedback. There is very little positive feedback. Managers or colleagues wait until there is a problem to deliver feedback. There is often negative emotion attached. The feedback is not really given for the benefit of the person receiving it.
This is why my simple act of writing down some positive things (to do more of), and a few specific areas that need to improve(and how to improve them), created delight among the capable people in the room.
Note:I also benefited from the fact that I do not live with the people I gave feedback to.
It is much more difficult to receive feedback from the people who know us best,
and they are much more likely to have a long list of things to give us feedback on!
See Thanks for the Feedback:
The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen.
Generous Feedback I learned some time ago about a rarely used type of feedback that has the power to change lives. I call it Generous Feedback.
Generous Feedback involves giving feedback when you are not required to do so, and giving it to serve the other person.
In my final year of university I worked at a call center. One of my colleagues knew I was planning to go to graduate school in another city. When he asked me what I was doing to do for work, I said I planned to find another call center job. He said: “Why would you do that? Call centers don’t pay much, and you have a talent for teaching.” I wondered out loud what I would be qualified to teach.
He pointed out that (a) I had scored well on the GRE and GMAT (b) I already had teaching experience (my other job was teaching Chinese to beginners) and (c) there were companies that specialized in classes that help people prepare for these tests.
I decided to give it a try, applied for a position with Kaplan Test Prep near my graduate school, got hired at a rate of pay 3x my call center pay, and enjoyed two happy years as a well-paid part-time trainer and tutor for Kaplan. After graduation I went to work in regional management for Kaplan, which became the foundation for my career in business and training.
All of this was possible because a generous person I worked with took a moment to give me some feedback about my strengths and potential. His feedback was immensely generous.
Another type of valuable feedback is what I’d call Breakthrough Feedback.
We all have beliefs or habits that limit our potential. Every once in a while, someone cares about us enough to point out these beliefs and challenges us to reconsider them.
My friend Malcolm Nerva did this for me earlier this year after we spent a few days with a group of our peers on a retreat in the hills. Toward the end of our time together, Malcolm gave me this feedback:
“True, I have heard you say many times over the weekend that you want to get into better physical shape. You have also said many times things like ‘I’m 50 years old’ and ‘My knees are old.’ True, I don’t think you are so old. Do you think maybe you believe you are too old to get into great shape again? If you do believe this, how is that helping you?”
Malcolm was right, and by giving me this feedback he helped me change a limiting belief about myself. As of this writing, I have changed my diet and exercise programs and lost several kilos. My knees do not hurt anymore, and I feel young and vital again.
All of this began because someone cared enough about me to challenge my beliefs.
Who can you serve today by giving specific, sincere feedback?
Yours in learning and service,
P.S. For more on feedback, see True Insights #8, On Feedback: Some Notes from the Field