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Taking The Fear Out Of Feedback

Written by: Lorraine Twombly
Published: August 2013

Lately, there have been lots of discussions about giving (and not giving) feedback. For some of us, it's relatively easy to just say what needs to be said. For more of us, there's a certain amount of fear about just saying what needs to be said. Even positive feedback is hard for some folks. Just the act of giving feedback can sometimes leave a bad taste in our mouths... we don't want to come across as a know-it-all and lots of us have been taught to mind our own business.

As I have matured and grown over these many years, receiving and giving feedback has been my greatest gift. I don't seem to have fear around giving feedback anymore...I clunked around lots of times in my youth, and, since then, I've learned that it is okay to be honest and forthcoming about most anything. And, I have learned so much through other people's feedback and styles of giving it.

We don't have to sugar coat, avoid, stress out, and get angry over things we cannot control in other people. There are lots of things that annoy us and sometimes we lash out by saying something honest, but hurtful in the feedback because of our frustrations. This is never well received.

Why not ask questions to others in order to figure out what needs to be addressed and maybe there will be an opportunity to give the gift of feedback. For me, it's a wonderful way to give feedback without being accusative, judgmental, and without coming across as a know-it-all. I'm giving the other person a chance to tell me what's up and then listen carefully, ask more questions and perhaps give a sound piece of feedback that can be well received and appreciated.

Here's an example that I just went through with my mom. She recently visited us in Maine for six weeks and she's from southwest Florida. After the fourth week, she started to behave strangely and avoid eye contact and that was a sign to us that something was up. After talking with Ralph about what we thought it may be that was bothering her, we set out to ask a couple of key questions. We asked her if she was homesick and just listened (because that was what we suspected was going on with her). She then spilled what was on her mind, saying she missed her pool and the "warmer" weather of Florida because it had rained so much in July, etc. We asked if we could help her get back home a few weeks sooner and she was very grateful and became calmer in her behavior. We gave her an opportunity to save face, so to speak. We could have given her feedback about her behavior, but instead decided to approach feedback by asking those two questions. Her feedback to us was that she appreciated the fact that we thought of her and her needs and that we were paying attention.

When we notice behaviors that are different from the norm in others, sometimes we can ask questions to help them talk about what's bothering them and, by listening to their concerns or issues that may require some feedback, we can find appreciative ways to give it.

Another example that resonated with me in a group setting was a few months back on a day one of one of our leadership series workshops, when out of the blue, one of the participants spoke up and said, "What I need from this group is for you all to give me your honest assessments or thoughts because I really need to learn some skills and behaviors to help me be a better leader." This set the stage for all the other participants to ask for the same feedback. We, of course, were grateful that he brought this up, because we do not hold back on feedback (almost always positive) and, when there're issues to be dealt with, we can just say it because we need to be honest as well as tactful and we need to keep trying to master the art of what I call "approachable feedback" By that I mean, it is not what you say, it is how you say it, and that saying has been around for quite a while and rings true for me.  Being genuinely concerned and listening will pave the way toward honest and appreciated feedback.

I wouldn't recommend giving feedback to folks who have had a bad day or who are angry and venting out their frustrations...waiting for appropriate times is the best chance for successful feedback outcomes.

If you wonder if you should or shouldn't give the feedback ask, "Is it appropriate for me to give you feedback on the incident that just happened?" Most of the time, this will clear the way for you to give meaningful feedback to the other person.

Next time a feedback opportunity comes up try this:

  • Think of an appropriate question to begin the feedback - the first example of my mom worked great.
  • Give your feedback in calm tones of voice and at a manageable speed. Too fast may feel overwhelming, and too slow will feel condescending.
  • Try not to let emotions enter into the discussion. Feedback can elicit emotions and, as the feedback giver, keeping calm and focused encourages the person receiving the feedback to do the same.
  • Talk about the issue or behavior and stay away from personality traits. A person can distance themselves from an issue and even a behavior, and talking about personality traits is labeling (not feedback) and that may encourage negative emotions.
  • Ask for feedback after the feedback. If you in turn ask for feedback, more dialogue and conversation will increase your chances for a successful outcome.

I am so grateful to all my friends, family and husband for giving me their gifts of feedback!

I would love to read about your stories of feedback outcomes...we are always interested and we hope you will give us your thoughts.

Hope you are having a great summer!

Lorraine Twombly

Lorraine Twombly