Wow! What an amazing month April’s been for fabulous feelings and philosophies on feedback! 33 posts all together! Impressive stuff and a great wealth of insight has been created on a topic which is clearly an area of work that continues to need some attention so that we can improve.
Thank you to everyone who’s contributed. It’s only because of you that this curation is possible and able to benefit others with this same challenge.
It all started with a post I began to write after a Pilates class…..
“Every week in my Pilates class there’s at least one of us that needs help to perfect a move.
> Sit right back, put all the weight into your heels so you can lift your toes. > Keep your hips facing forward and twist at the waist. > Lift your chest keeping your back in neutral.
And we adjust what we’re doing and then go “Oh! That’s how it’s meant to feel”.
And sometimes words aren’t enough and our instructor needs to come and show us one-to-one. Perhaps just visibly. Perhaps physically adjusting our bodies for us so we can really feel the difference.
We think we’re copying her when she stands at the front of the class. And yet sometimes we’re just not. Sometimes we’re really completely oblivious to how our own bodies are actually moving.
Timothy Gallwey talks about this in The Inner Game of Tennis. How he has to get players to stand somewhere that they can see their reflection so they can watch their swing. And then they see “Oh! I really am finishing too high”.
Because we really can be oblivious to what we’re actually doing compared to what we’re supposed to be doing – we all have Blind Spots.”
From those origins, the Feedback Carnival was born with this invitation for people to add their thoughts and observations; “Feedback would happen all the time if……”
So this post is my curation of all that insight to bring you some of the thinking that’s out there into one place.
A key point made by David Goddin in his post is that feedback benefits from being observations, not judgements, and so with this post my intention is to share the insights from all the contributions without judgement of whether they are right or wrong, good or bad. They are what they are and you will be able to read; debate with whoever will be helpful for you in that; and choose what is right for you – because some parts will be more helpful in some contexts than others. So while you read, I invite you to have your context and your purpose with feedback in your mind, and maybe start with a question.
What might help you?
What might help those around you?
What might help your organisation?
So, why should we care about feedback? What’s the purpose?
I think without exception, all the writers have believed that feedback is a helpful thing. Helpful for our personal development, and therefore helpful for those around us – and beyond – because it raises our awareness and so enables us to develop and improve what we do and how we do it, which improves ours and others performance, and therefore improves overall organisational results.
Peter Cook wrote a great example of how embracing feedback and doing something about it, coupled with persistence, got him the result he wanted for his career.
Heather Kinzie wrote about our fundamental human need of being wanted – or of receiving attention. This need for attention, which is very obvious in children, remains with us as we grow older, and feedback is one way in which we can meet this need in others. If someone’s given us feedback, they’ve seen us, they’ve noticed us, and they’ve cared enough to say something about it, and that has us feel OK – something Gemma Reucroft experienced when offering feedback to a colleague.
Kandy Woodfield acknowledges the purpose of feedback as providing a sense of belonging, a purpose, aspirational goals and trust in each other.
So the purpose of feedback isn’t just about that external results and performance stuff out there, it’s about the stuff that goes on inside each and every one of us every day. Perhaps if we took care of the internal stuff, the external would be more likely to take care of itself?
So what does that ‘helpful’ feedback place look like?
Many people acknowledge that feedback already happens all around us all the time, if we stop to notice it. However most of the content has focused on improving the ‘traditional’ work-based feedback situation. The place of ‘this is how you’re doing in your job’ or ‘this was the impact on me when you did that’.
As 70:20:10 learning strategies continue to be the focus for improved sustainability of learning, effective feedback will have to be central to that, given that it sits in the 70% of on-the-job learning, and in the 20% of coaching and mentoring, as well as in the 10% of classroom learning which Rachel Burnham picked up on with some practical examples of making feedback part of a learning environment.
Jo Stephenson has a dream for how her future place of feedback will look “I’m dreaming of time when it’s common practice that feedback talk happens as standard, within the 1:1s I’m part of. It’s expected, it’s what we do here. We value it.”
David Goddin agreed that the place to aim for is where feedback is given freely and with “care and respect”. Along similar lines to Ian Pettigrew who also wrote about great feedback being based in “truth and positive intent”, and Gemma talking about the intent being to give feedback with “care and compassion”.
This place isn’t one where feedback MUST be given all the time. Meg Peppin recognised this because in those places where license has been given for ‘feedback in the moment’ it can lead to careless, thoughtless throwing of words at the other person. It might make the giver feel better to get it off their chest, but it’s unlikely to be helpful to the receiver.
This helpful feedback place will also be positive. Sukh, Lisa, Gemma and Peter all identified the benefits, which are now being proven by neuroscience, of having positive feedback, or acknowledgement, as part of a helpful, resilient working environment. And there must still be balance because, as Peter also highlighted, with the positive can then come challenge. When we reach this place of high challenge, that has a foundation of high support, great things can happen.
What stops us then?
Well, so many things.
For starters, both Meg and Ben wrote about the word itself being a barrier! When people hear ‘let me give you some feedback’ they immediately believe that they’ve done something wrong. Perhaps a hangover from our previous (and still current) command and control leadership styles which instil a parent-child approach : ‘I’m in charge and now I’m telling you off because I’m not happy with how you’re performing/behaving’ culture. Something which, in Meg’s words is, “an attempt to mechanise, to simplify, to depersonalise what is most complex and challenging and beautiful and terrifying for us all”, the complexity of which is acknowledged in Phil Willcox’s post in which he dissects the conversation to show it for the complex interaction it really is.
Clare Haynes wrote about the belief that exists that we don’t have time to give feedback. Usually when we say we don’t have time it really means that on some level, for some reason, we don’t want to or don’t feel capable of doing it.
Simon Heath wrote about fear which is alive and well in the workplace and which we know triggers our fight, flight or freeze response which Lisa Gill writes about in her second post. I wonder if we go through a mini Kubler-Ross change curve every time we receive some feedback, staying at certain points longer depending on who’s given the feedback, how they’ve done it and what else might be going on in our lives at the time?
Julie picked up on our potential for paralysis through a desire to ‘do it right’ – “to separate a category of conversation as “feedback” does all sorts of weird, distorting things to the dialogue. We get all tangled up: “I must give feedback. There are rules to how I do this.”
Part of Phil’s post included acknowledgement of the beliefs we hold that influence how we behave with others. These thoughts and beliefs will stop us giving feedback at all, or stop us giving it in a helpful way because we become so affected by what’s in our minds. It also affects us as the receiver. Our previous experiences will inform how we respond to feedback whether positive or developmental
And Sukh called out the fact that we even struggle to give positive feedback / praise / appreciation / acknowledgment. We’ll all have a different word that feels more comfortable for this type of feedback. Could this be the British ‘stiff upper lip’ culture or is it a business ‘we don’t do emotions here’ culture that stops us?
If all that stuff is stopping us, what can help us move forward?
Ben Eubank had the idea that it would be easier if we were all perfect! And although said in jest, we do sometimes behave as if we believe people should be perfect. Maybe getting real about that would actually be a good starting place.
Much of what Ben captured links to the context we operate in, which Jeremy Lewis also recognises, and that these constructs in work and the culture created can get in the way of feedback happening.
Andy Swann wrote about our need to just do it. Learn from our trust-ful personal relationships and just give the feedback.
Clare Haynes also identified the trust element as key to success and that giving – and receiving – feedback isn’t a one hit wonder. It’s something we need to practice, develop and keep doing just as we do with exercise – sadly one trip to the gym doesn’t keep us in shape for the rest of our lives!
Little and often is the order of the day.
The trust theme was continued by Meg, Amanda, Andy, Elen and Julie who are inviting us to spend time together, build trust, make feedback part of the conversation – “If we focus on the quality of conversation and relationship we have with each other, the feedback stuff kind of takes care of itself.”
Amanda Sterling has this great insight in her post – “Continual feedback doesn’t happen without trust. Trust doesn’t happen without vulnerability. Vulnerability doesn’t happen without safety.” and that foundation of safety won’t exist while fear continues to be present, to greater or lesser extents, at work.
David D’Souza provided a comprehensive list of ways forward, a lot of which centres around reducing our self-centred-ness – such as focussing more on growing others careers rather than our own, and focussing more on what the other person needs to hear for their benefit rather than our preoccupation with whether we’ll say it ‘right’. The latter being unhelpfully fuelled by the use of the word ‘feedback’ and the distinction of this conversation from any other conversation. A sentiment echoed by Julie who writes how things could be improved “if we were a little more thoughtful about the receiver and a little less preoccupied by what we have to say.”
This theme was picked up by others in that the context we operate in influences how we behave around this entity called feedback. Ian Pettigrew gives us a glimpse of how the Red Arrows, and other parts of the RAF, create a great feedback culture which involves ‘leaving your rank at the door’ and where they inquire into what’s happened with the purpose of really understanding it to improve – not to beat someone over the head with it.
So there’s a strong message about changing or reframing the intent behind feedback to enable it to be an easier thing, a more ‘everyday what we do’ thing. Something which Tony Jackson, Kate G-L and Kylie Telford all picked up on because your intent says as much about you as what it provides to the recipient.
Part of this new intent could be shown in the words you use. Perry Timms gives a great example where, instead of continuing to tell someone they’re not doing [insert task] well enough (in Perry’s example – the filing), why not become curious and focused on their strengths and their agenda – “If you could do anything about your lack of enthusiasm for filing what would it be?”
And what about this positive stuff that we even struggle to share? Lisa Gill gives some neuroscience insight to help motivate us into this place. When we receive positive feedback, our brain response shows that we view it the same as a tangible reward so “if you make spotting excellence and giving feedback a habit, you’ll start to notice the positive feelings you get when you give this feedback, which will reinforce the habit. And not only that, you’ll probably find people start to give you more feedback. It’s a virtuous circle!”
And some practical ‘how to’ tips
Tony Jackson recognises the value of labelling what’s going on, what you’re intending to say, what you intend to achieve. This way you can clearly signal what your purpose is, as well as demonstrate leadership and emotional intelligence in your ability to recognise what’s going on – and to do something about it, e.g. ‘I notice you seem frustrated….’ Or ‘I’ve noticed I feel frustrated….’ As well as ‘Let’s talk about this to see what we can learn’.
Lisa Gill and Margaret Burnside both offer non-sandwich-based models to help shape the conversation. This can be valuable to people who need some stabilisers first before they can free wheel down the feedback street.
Paul Kaerger and Ben Eubank also give some broader tips. Paul focuses on preparing for and holding a more formal feedback conversation, and Ben introduces some contextual / cultural ideas to help feedback happen more often.
Andrew Jacobs reminds us that measuring the qualitative is as important as the quantitative and that ignoring it would be foolish. We can use 1 to 10 rating scales to help make what seems intangible into something more tangible and against which we can measure progress and recognise success. Which comes back to an idea at the start of this post about the fact that, if we can focus on giving the internal stuff attention, the external performance and results can largely take care of themselves.
– Entirely through my error I missed the post from Michelle Parry-Slater out of the original curation. Now rectified. Here’s her piece showing how feedback can work and how it can also get a bit tangled or ignored in action.
– The people of Brand Learning have actually had a Feedback Festival where for one day everyone gave others feedback. Read their story to get a sense of the buzz and energy they created!
And what about the receiver in all of this?
As we’ve seen above, effective feedback that happens with relative ease is all about relationships and trust and of course there is always more than one person in a relationship.
So we must remember that as a receiver we may need to practice hearing what people think of us. Jo Stephenson has thrown herself into that experience and, as for the givers, this is something we need to maintain and practice regularly. Although uncomfortable, it is embracing this discomfort that enables us to develop and stretch.
Kylie Telford acknowledges this need to sometimes mull, perhaps to go through our own personal change curve as mentioned previously. Let the new information sit with you, notice how it makes you feel and then choose what you will do that.
So as a receiver, listen to the advice of Steve Browne, take personal responsibility and start asking for it.
You can even provide feedback to yourself which Stuart Eglin guides us through. It might sound crazy but it’s a form of self-coaching and it works!
So there you have it. Feedback continues to be something that we often easily brush off as a simple management skill. What I believe this post shows is that there is a lot more to it than that – your attitude and your ability to build strong relationships are a critical part of success.
I’d love to know what you think, as I’m sure all the contributors do too. So drop a note in the comments, share something on a tweet and, if nothing else, I hope this will be of value to you.
Thank you again to all the writers!
This is me…..www.wildfigsolutions.co.uk