Difficult but Necessary

Providing honest and constructive feedback is no easy task, but it must be done.

Difficult by Sam Ferrara.jpg

In the January 2013 blog post, I wrote about my colleague who didn't react well to my telling him about how some of his actions may be affecting his credibility. Because of the way he responded, I was left wondering if I would ever approach him to provide any kind of feedback in the future. It's difficult, especially when I have an idea of what his potential reaction would be. However, if I truly care about him, I shouldn't allow the way he responded the first time to dictate whether or not I would approach him to provide another feedback that is deemed necessary.

Giving feedback about areas of improvement can be difficult because the act is usually met with resistance and defensiveness. While the possible response of the receiver of the feedback shouldn't be a factor, more often than not, it is. There’s a level of apprehension involved because most of us do not like to hurt other people’s feelings. But looking at the benefits of the act could be beneficial, and may help to dull the impact of  whatever potential backlash may result.

In his blog post, Don't Be Nice; Be Helpful, Peter Bregman wrote about how providing feedback to one another helps us be aware of our blind spots. We all have these blind spots, and it takes others to help us see them. That’s why they’re called blind spots. Bregman wrote:

Giving people feedback is an act of trust and confidence. It shows that you believe in their ability to change. That you believe they will use the information to become better. And that you have faith in their potential.”

We should not be concerned about how the feedback will be received. We should focus on the fact that giving feedback is providing the needed help to the recipient, whether they realize it or not.

One of the key leadership skills that Toastmasters International helps to develop is that of providing feedback. Everything that is done in the course of a Toastmasters meeting is evaluated on the spot. Members provide evaluations in what is called a "sandwich approach". You start with something positive to encourage the member to continue doing. This is followed by a suggestion for improvement. You end the evaluation with another positive thing that you observe. This communicates the fact that feedback doesn't have to be all bad news. No matter how bad someone is, there are some good attributes and traits that could be praised and encouraged.

As we seek to give feedback, when we do it is as important as how it’s done. The recipient’s mood and frame of mind at the time is critical. It’s true that some people are never in a good mood to receive feedback. They will automatically go on the defensive when what they perceive as an attack comes. However, this should not deter us.

Sometimes, dealing with personal issues or struggles would make a person have a short fuse. You become impatient and unwilling to listen to any words of wisdom that could be beneficial. Rationality goes out the windows, and you don’t think straight. Not too long ago, I was about to give a friend feedback on the importance of keeping promises and delivering on commitments. But I stopped when I found out that he was going through a very rough time. Instead, we talked about the issues he was experiencing and I was able to offer some encouragement.

In one of the comments posted on the January blog post I mentioned earlier, Esther stated that “it is important to first build a relationship with someone ... Such relationship sets the ground for mutual trust and increases the chances of the criticism being received in good faith.

I agree. Without a relationship built on trust, it’s difficult for feedback to be received. The same is true for giving feedback. No rational person gives feedback to someone they don’t know just out of the blue. It’s even odd to give it to someone that’s just an acquaintance. Providing feedback suggests a level of knowledge of the behavior that’s more than just casual. The behavior must have been observed repeatedly.

Finally, feedback is incomplete when it only points out what someone needs to do better. It’s helpful to also offer specific, actionable steps that could be valuable. This is another way in which you show that the motivation for giving the feedback is to be helpful. When you point out areas of improvement, and offer concrete steps for getting it done, you may not just be helping someone.

You could be gaining a friend for a lifetime.