Overcoming Feedback Apprehension: Dos and Don’ts of Giving and Receiving Feedback
FEEDBACK — often described as a cornerstone of growth — possesses the potential to really inform and shape our professional and personal growth. When we’re open to receiving it and thoughtful in providing it to others, feedback can be very powerful while deepening and enriching relationships overall.
So why do so many shy away from asking for or giving feedback? Because being vulnerable and open to what others have to say can be scary. And, if we’re unsure how to provide constructive feedback thoughtfully to others, fear of their reactions will hold us back for sure.
Regardless of how you feel, getting input from others and providing it is important, so here are some ways to make it a little easier.
The Power of Constructive Feedback
A key misconception about constructive feedback is that it’s a critique. It should not be at all; advice like this should bring about thoughtful and productive dialogue. When in a trusted or safe environment, conversations of this nature can serve as a mirror, reflecting our actions, choices, and behaviors, and helping us to see ourselves more clearly.
This mirrored reflection, although sometimes uncomfortable, opens avenues for discussion and a supportive environment for improvement. These conversations can guide us toward more effective approaches to things and innovative solutions.
Additionally, the impact of constructive feedback extends beyond individual development. In the realm of teamwork and collaboration, this form of feedback becomes a bridge that connects individuals, fostering open communication and shared understanding. When offered in the spirit of improvement and shared success, constructive feedback cultivates an environment where team members feel valued, respected, and motivated to contribute their best.
Providing Effective Feedback
Giving team members feedback requires sensitivity, finesse, and purpose. When providing someone with information that could be taken as criticism or potentially put them on the defensive, one must proceed with intention, care, and authenticity. When advice and insights are given in a meaningful and thoughtful way, not only does it support the individual, but it builds and fosters trust between people.
Here are some things to do or avoid when providing feedback in a way that empowers and fosters learning and growth.
Be human: Seems obvious, I know, but too often, one goes in just with an agenda of what behaviors or actions need to be addressed without thinking about how the other person will respond or react. Before you go into these conversations, ask yourself what you want the other person to walk away with and then think about them and what approach for them individually will bring about the most productive, healthy conversation.
Embrace a coaching approach: Too often, these conversations are one-sided; start the conversation with an open conversation. Ask the other person what they think is going well and where they see opportunities for growth. Letting someone self-identify is the best way to empower them towards change. Once they have shared, you can have a more productive conversation around their thoughts and layer in anything else from your side, positive or constructive.
Be specific and objective: Effective feedback is rooted in clarity. When offering feedback, focus on specific actions, situations, or behaviors rather than vague generalizations. Objectivity is key. Present observations in an unbiased manner — supported by information or examples — to ensure that the feedback remains constructive rather than subjective criticism.
Focus on behavior, not personality: Constructive feedback centers around actions and outcomes, not personal attributes. Address behaviors that can be altered, steering clear of judgments about an individual’s character. This approach maintains a supportive tone and encourages change without causing defensiveness.
Always conclude with an action plan: When both individuals leave a conversation of this nature, it’s key to ensure that everyone is on the same page with what was talked about, that there is no confusion, and that clear next steps are in place. Additionally, set a time to regroup a few weeks in the future to check in and provide any support.
Generalize: Feedback loses its impact when it relies on vague statements or generalizations. Avoid phrases like “You always” or “You never,” as they oversimplify complex situations and hinder productive communication.
Blame: Effective feedback promotes accountability and solution-finding rather than assigning blame. Avoid pointing fingers or accusing, as this can create defensiveness and undermine the purpose of the feedback. The individual will shut down and walk away with no tangible or actionable paths to improvement.
Make assumptions: Feedback should be based on facts, not assumptions or hearsay from a third party if at all possible. Avoid making guesses about someone’s motivations or intentions. Instead, ask questions, learn from their perspective, and focus on observable behaviors or actions.
Receiving Feedback with Confidence
Receiving feedback can be hard because we are human, and vulnerability is hard. Having areas of opportunity reflected back to us can feel imperfect, which can be uncomfortable for many. Even when one is praised, some might feel awkward or vulnerable. These are normal emotions and feelings.
The good news is that with an open mind and some confidence, feedback can be the foundation for personal and professional growth. The principles of receiving feedback with grace and confidence pave the way for transformative change while nurturing our relationship with self-improvement. You’ve heard the cliché that “feedback is a gift,” so embrace it.
Cultivate an open mindset: Approach feedback with an open and receptive mindset. Recognize that receiving feedback is an opportunity for growth, regardless of whether it confirms strengths or highlights areas for improvement.
Seek clarity: When feedback is given, ask clarifying questions to ensure you fully understand the observations and perspectives shared. If certain points are unclear, ask for examples or further explanation. This demonstrates your openness and commitment to learning and understanding.
Show appreciation: Express gratitude for the feedback received, regardless of its nature. By acknowledging the effort someone has taken to provide insights, you create an environment of mutual respect and encourage ongoing constructive dialogue.
Become defensive: This is a business maturity check. When confronted with feedback, avoid the instinct to become defensive. Defensive reactions can hinder understanding and close the door to growth. Instead, take a moment to absorb the feedback before responding.
Disregard or dismiss: Even if the feedback seems unfamiliar or contradictory to your self-perception, resist the urge to disregard it outright. Ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand what is being said. It’s good to remind yourself that every perspective has value, and the insights offered might help uncover blind spots or overlooked opportunities for improvement.
Over-personalizing: Receiving feedback is not an evaluation of your worth as a person. Avoid over-personalizing feedback and instead focus on the specific actions and behaviors being discussed. This perspective shift enables you to embrace feedback without it becoming a source of anxiety.
The Path to Growth and Success
Fostering a culture of growth and continuous improvement lies at the core of effective feedback dynamics. Encouraging an environment where feedback is not only accepted but actively sought, creates a fertile ground for learning and enhancement. In this arena, feedback isn’t seen as criticism but rather as a valuable tool that empowers individuals to excel.
In the sphere of personal and professional development, the navigation of feedback — both providing and hearing — is an indispensable element guiding individuals toward growth and success. When provided with good intention, authenticity, and caring, as well as absorbed with receptivity, feedback becomes a powerful catalyst for improvement, refining skills, and strengthening relationships and sets the stage for a growth-minded workplace for all.
Paul Bramson, CEO of The Paul Bramson Companies, has been described as a powerhouse on keynote stages and in training arenas. He is distinguished as being one of the most effective speakers, trainers, and executive coaches in the world today. He is considered a global authority and thought leader in the areas of leadership, sales & communication. With over 25 years of experience in educating, speaking, and coaching, Paul has a unique ability to connect with professionals, leaders, and teams at all levels, providing them with valuable insights and empowering them with the most relevant knowledge and skills. His sincere and passionate approach to his work is evident in his ability to engage and inspire audiences. Paul grew up in Boston, graduated from Boston University, and currently lives in Atlanta, GA
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