At some time or another, you and I have had to give feedback to someone, or might have been on the receiving end. And for the most of us, the experience hasn’t always been pleasant. In fact, on the work scene, it is not unlikely for both employees and supervisors to dread, that time of year when performance appraisals are to be conducted. And even in our personal lives, feedback – the nature and content of it, has led to, or contributed to, many a broken or damaged relationships, shattered trust and sent many to seek the counsel of elders, family, pastors and friends. Still, I contend, no matter how you look at it, feedback is a GIFT.
Here is the dilemma- feedback comes from everywhere and everyone, and it can be both good and bad. Clearly, positive feedback, the type usually regarded as good, doesn’t make us feel mad, bad or sad. It pleases us, makes us glow and run around “boasting” of our finer attributes to anyone who will listen. Usually, it is the negative variety a.ka. bad feedback, that causes us the tears, pain, anger, sends us ranting, catches us reacting defensively, or signals us to turn on our Silence buttons. When this happens, whether the feedback is given by loved one, friend(s), supervisor(s) or, co-worker(s), customer(s) or all of the above- doesn’t make it any easier accept.
Fortunately or unfortunately, I’ve experienced all the emotions I just described, and the kinds of feedback I mentioned. One my earliest experiences with negative feedback, came from my supervisor in my very first job. In my then role, I was responsible for coordinating over 20 training courses offered by the agency. The position I assumed, had been vacant for a whole year, and there was a “back-log” with issues deemed both urgent and important at the same time. As you could imagine, I worked hard to resolve these issues, while focusing on my key deliverables, learning the organization and my job. But, none of this bothered me, for I love a challenge, and tend to be very committed to whatever I do. Needless to say, by the time my probationary period ended, I was confident, settled and happy with my progress and performance. And with this positive energy and attitude, I sat down with my supervisor for my performance appraisal.
Our discussions about my performance and impact went very well. There were no surprises. That is, until she mentioned that, some of the participants for a course I coordinated, were dissatisfied with me. The issue they raised was related to my attitude, and their perception that, I did not seem particularly “friendly” to them. Truth be told, they were my least favorite group and they had the biggest issues on my “backlog” list. Speaking to them, and interacting with them, always required extra preparation-mental and otherwise. But I consider myself professional, and they were our/my customers, so truly I did my best. As my supervisor shared, I remember feeling hurt and angry, as I fought the tears welling up in my eyes . Suddenly, it was as if, nothing else had been said in the discussion, none of the kudos I had earlier heard/received mattered. And the kinder she was, the worst I felt.
Sometime after my tears subsided, and my thoughts of their ungratefulness faded, I resolved that I had to change my approach. After all, don’t we all want to be seen favorably, to the people who matter? So,I made a deliberate effort to “warm up” to the group, smile, say hi to them in the corridors, and be more patient in our interactions. It wasn’t before long that they too responded in kind, and I made friends with the group, as we continued to grapple with challenging issues. The way I figure it now is that, I was much younger then and less wiser I suspect.
Since then, I’ve had many roles and numerous opportunities to give and receive feedback.
Yet to date, the most enduring lessons have been:
- Feedback isn’t always positive or negative but it should always be honest.
- It is equally important to listen to what is said as well as what is not said.
- LISTEN and SILENT has the same letters- so listen carefully and ask questions to help you better understand the issue not argue.
- Instead of dismissing the feedback you don’t like, ask yourself- is any of it true?
- Be kind and gentle in sharing feedback-regardless of appearances, people are people first with emotions, insecurities and fears.
- Avoid making generalizations about people. Base your feedback on the specific situation you observed, the behavior and the impact it had on you, the job or others.
- Examine your motives in giving feedback – is it meant to develop or “tear down”?
- Say thank you- you don’t have to agree with what you’ve heard (but it is better to know how others feel about you and it gives you an opportunity to fix it).
In the end, I have learnt to value feedback. Feedback should make us glow and grow. Feedback is a Gift!
What has your experience been in giving or receiving feedback? Practice on me !
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