“I don’t love it...” is a phrase I don’t hesitate to use if my team presents me with an unpolished product or project. The good thing is that this phrase never stops them. They absorb the feedback, head back to the drawing board, make necessary edits or additions, and come back to me for a round two.
According to Quantum Workplace’s 2015 trend report, “one in five employees are not confident their manager will provide regular, constructive feedback.” No wonder so many of us are still uncomfortable giving and receiving constructive criticism—the unfamiliar can easily inspire fear.
And in a study of more than 65K employees, Gallup found that “those who received strengths feedback had turnover rates that were 14.9 percent lower than for employees who received no feedback.” Of course, not every piece of feedback is going to be golden, but this does demonstrate the power of communication and its role in organizational health. So with so much data pointing to the fact that consistent feedback is a must, how are so many of us still missing the boat?
I think one of the issues is that “feedback” can have a negative connotation. People sometimes think it means you’re doing a bad job when, really, it just means that a conversation needs to happen. In fact, these conversations often lead to opportunities for growth and continued learning. We would all be better served to view those moments as prompts for personal and professional development.
Here, I explore a few ways to ease the pressure of the feedback loop, including how to give and receive it with grace (and when to have thick skin).
1. Be direct and as clear as possible.
In other words, don’t sugarcoat or pad feedback in a way that dilutes the message. As an empathetic person, it can be tempting to “nurture” when what you really need to do is be direct about what went well or didn’t and why. My team and I are very direct with one another and I expect them to tell me how it is, even if I’m the one who has misstepped. Feedback isn’t something that only a manager can give to their report, after all. Employees should be communicating in this way with their managers and peer-to-peer, as well.
2. A healthy feedback loop requires trust.
I happen to be an extremely candid person, and my team allows me to be because I’ve earned their trust over time. They understand that my feedback comes from a place of wanting them to do great. They also know they are protected. You get to that place of trust by having open, candid, sharp, and honest conversations on a regular basis. If you give an employee a piece of feedback at their annual review and it surprises them, you haven’t done your job.
3. Separate the personal from the professional.
Easier said than done if you or the person on the receiving end of the feedback feels personally invested in the work, and hopefully they do. Even though receiving feedback can be an emotional experience, it’s important to put your personal feelings aside so you can discuss your professional work and how efficiently it is supporting the objectives of the business.
The ability to listen, take a deep breath, and let something sink in (versus being defensive or reactive) says a lot about your professional maturity. Instead of focusing on how the feedback makes you feel, consider how it can improve your final product. In the end, it’s a valuable opportunity for growth, and growth tends to happen in the struggle, not the stride.
4. Remember that feedback is a two-way dialogue.
It’s easy to feel attacked if someone gives you feedback and you don’t have the opportunity to participate. You should never feel that way because feedback, when conducted in a healthy manner, is a conversation. Really listen, ask questions, and be present so it feels like a conversation and not as though you’re having a fact handed to you. It should always be a two-way dialogue.
5. Don’t give feedback when you’re upset.
Instead, give yourself some time to calm down and process, then approach the issue a day or so later. Some people may advise the opposite, nipping the issue in the bud as soon as it arises, but I’ve found it best to hold off for a moment. If you give feedback when you’re upset, there’s no way it will be a two-way street.
The Golden Rule
Give feedback in the way you’d like to receive it. And if you’re struggling with a piece of feedback you’ve been served, ask yourself how your favorite manager would handle it. Would they take it in strides and, perhaps, even be thankful for it? My guess is yes.
Annie Appel is an executive vice president at The Bay Club Company, an active lifestyle and hospitality company with a network of modern country clubs across California.