In part one of this series on succeeding with feedback, I shared the reasons and research on why we struggle with the idea and act of delivering or receiving feedback. And while it seems we’re wired not to like anything that challenges our sense of self, it’s too early to throw in the towel on the use of feedback. It turns out, with the right approach in an environment where everyone’s focus is on improving performance, feedback is a powerful tool. 

Seven Actions to Help You Succeed with Feedback 

1. Teach your team the real purpose of feedback

Feedback discussions are business discussions where the individuals involved strive to identify those behaviors that contribute to or detract from high-performance. The focus must be on connecting behaviors to performance outcomes and then discussing how this behavior can be strengthened in the future. That’s it. 

2. Work to create a healthy feedback environment with your team 

As a manager, strive to create a workplace where quality, performance, and business-focused feedback are part of the culture’s DNA. Single out the need and responsibility for feedback as a core value on your team, and strive to teach and model the behaviors essential for bringing the words to life. I encourage managers to bake the need for feedback into team values. 

3. Teach your team to give you meaningful feedback

Nothing says feedback is important, like modeling the behavior and setting the standard for encouraging feedback on your performance. Your response to feedback sets the tone for everyone in your group. 

To prime the feedback pump, ask these questions constantly:

  • What’s working?
  • What’s not?
  • What do you need me to do to help you succeed?

Of course, you reinforce the value of feedback when individuals screw up the courage to give it to you, and you choose your response. Getting defensive or arguing will guarantee the feedback spigot is turned off permanently.  

4. Ask Questions About Feedback You Don’t Understand

Remember, it’s your job to mine for performance-improving gold in these feedback sessions. Accept that individuals may be fearful of giving you feedback and work hard to put them at ease. Cultivate the attitude that there must be a pony there somewhere, and ask thoughtful—not defensive—questions in search of clarification. Put the giver at ease and listen intently. And then thank the giver for sharing this with you.

5. Design Feedback Discussions for Success

Approach feedback discussions as a design exercise. Make sure the key ingredients of behavior and business impact are present. Know your direction for the discussion. Plan your opening sentence with care. And, remind yourself that your goal is to promote a dialog. With proper design, even seemingly tough feedback discussions are less threatening for all parties. 

6. Conduct Feedback Discussions with Care and Empathy

Our instinct with the most challenging discussions is to race through them and escape. As a result, we come off as critical and unfeeling. That’s wrong. Instead, you need to slow down and take into account the person’s reality on the other side of the feedback discussion. Clarity, respect, and empathy are vital components of authentic, effective, constructive feedback delivery.

7. Let go of the past and shift the focus to the future

Remember, the focus of feedback is on strengthening performance in the future. I checked, and no one has a time machine to return to the past. Guide the discussion to focus on what the right approach will be in future settings. 

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The feedback issue is worth wrestling to the ground for all of us. Feedback can be powerful or incredibly destructive. Whether you are giving or receiving feedback, you owe it to yourself and your colleagues to win this wrestling match.

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Professional Development Opportunity

For any individual interested in moving from good to great with feedback, join me for a few hours on 11/18/20 or 12/9/20 (you pick one) for our Feedback Skills Bootcamp. You’ll leave with a clear understanding of how to design and manage feedback discussions for success. You also gain a treasure trove of supporting materials to help reinforce the lessons from the Bootcamp. If you are reading this after the dates above, drop me a note and I’ll share the timing on upcoming sessions.