Let me be clear, I want only positive feedback
How many times do you hear managers and leaders voicing out positive feedbacks and reviews. Any good comments from satisfied customers are always welcomed and appreciated, any good results always published and even plastered on the walls as an indication of outstanding performance. But what about the harsher criticisms? The so-called negative comments?
A classic situation was acted out to demonstrate the power of feedback, which I feel is a very useful method and tool which can be applied to any group of people within an organisation, particularly to managers and senior level employees. This situation was in the form of a meeting, where one team played the role of the participants of the meetings, all with a respective set of observers who annotated and took down notes, in silence, of the performance of the individuals and the meeting in general. At first glance, the role of the observer seemed so simple. How hard could it be to write down everything someone said on a sheet of paper? And then just read it back to them as feedback? Little did I realise how powerful it can be for one to observe in silence.
Being silent doesn’t come quite naturally to me, always wanting to voice out my opinion or give input to everything possible. But this time, I had to! Taking down notes on everything that was said wasn’t too hard a task, the challenge actually came with the next, and quite rightly, the most important step of the session - relaying this information in terms of performance feedback to the person I was observing. This proved to be one of the most useful moments for my career - the art and power of feedback, absolutely essential for leaders of the future.
The first step is to build the trust and engage with the person I am giving feedback to, all done within a matter of seconds. This is to put the reviewee at ease and in a comfortable environment in order for them to receive the feedback on themselves; people don’t usually like being told about themselves as they often think opposite to what you are about to tell them. One simple mechanism of doing this is to seat them down at a 45 degree angle to yourself, allowing them room for face contact and also for escape. As one great mind continuously reminds me, communication is only as good as the response received. This is where attention to body language and other like expressions is needed. This is a key characteristic that leaders need to be aware of, as most communication is non-verbal. It is hard for emotions such as anger and frustration to be hidden when at face value. These must be taken into consideration as it identifies whether the reviewee is engaged and still willing to receive the feedback.
An environment of positivity is highly appreciated, as I found was the case with my dissertation supervisor. He suggested that whenever we met for a meeting, before any of the actual details were discussed, that we should always state something that was both true and positive in our lives. This had the impact of making me feel safe to voice any concerns or any problems and made me at ease to converse with him. This positivity was further strengthened by not pointing out any negatives, only room for further improvement. This does not demotivate and put down the reviewee, and an effective communicator must constantly look for ways in which these suggestions can be made. In my view, keeping this more general to a system as a whole may reduce the potential impact it may have on the reviewee in case it started coming across as an attack to himself/herself. It must also be kept evidence based as opposed to the common tendency to add emotions to conversation. Feedback itself is not about summarising the events that occurred, it is about critically analysing what happened and feeding the information back in a way that some learning will come out of it.
The greatest learning opportunity for myself in this session was how to receive feedback. This for me is probably one of the hardest things, as most of the time I find myself, as I’m sure others do, in a pre-meditated defensive state - where anything anyone says is already contrary to what I want to hear. Feedback is not about telling people what they want to hear, it is about helping others improve, and also pointing out their strengths. This made me become very aware of myself, my characteristics, and how I should appreciate comments from others on my performance. It is about keeping ego aside and taking on board what is being said, without becoming emotional and starting to bear a grudge. Patience is virtue, and so is silence. I learnt the most this entire week having listened more than I usually do; leaders must be able to listen with an open mind and detach themselves emotionally from the situation at hand.