Feedback is like a drug to me, and I’ve been a junkie for it all of my working life. Not just the nice, ‘you’ve done a good job’ kind of feedback, but more of the ‘here’s what you can do better’ variety that gives me something tangible to munch on.
Maybe it’s because I never had the kind of enviable confidence that some people have. The kind of confidence that makes them feel like they are always right. The kind of confidence that, like a security blanket or better yet, a protective shield, makes it difficult for any kind of criticism to seep through.
Or maybe it’s because I think that I’m destined to forever be a runner-up, never in first place, kind of woman, and so there’s always room to do more work to be an even better version of myself. Whatever the reason, it’s left me hungry to understand what I can improve, and therefore always very receptive to feedback.
Among the best feedback I have ever received, the piece of advice that remains with me to this day, had to do with my posture during meetings. YES, my posture of all things. Specifically, to not let my shoulders fall during challenging or heated conversations in which my ideas were being built upon (stolen?) and someone else was receiving the full credit.
I was very early in my career when I received this gem of advice – super green on the job, but full of thoughts about how to solve problems creatively, intuition about business, and enthusiasm to contribute. I wasn’t afraid to contribute openly in discussions with very senior people. But I was unaccustomed to the politics and the competitive dynamics in a hierarchical environment. I had loads of potential, but my delivery needed pruning.
A typical day involved many meetings with peers across different functional departments and senior leaders who were ultimately there to be appealed to with compelling arguments. The meetings were like a theatre – a Broadway play with a cast of characters who rotated across the same roles.
The narcissist was my favorite role to observe. This person not only had the most air time in every meeting, but also found a way to take credit for all of the good ideas, including mine. And the resultant praise that would be directed in the narcissist’s direction would plant seeds of doubt and uncertainty in my mind and apparently, also on my face and in my shoulders.
So when I received this amazingly pointed feedback, I was so thankful. I am indeed an extremely animated in person. Even when I am not speaking, I am speaking. I listen and react to others with my whole body. So the feedback was clearly for me – it was based in accurate observation, was insightful, and specific, and doled out in a careful manner that balanced softness with brutal honesty.
Immediately after that conversation, I became hyper aware of my body language and facial expressions during meetings. I had to act-as-if I was not affected when my ideas were being retold by another, because the truth is, I did feel a sting of hurt and at the time, was still inexperienced in the art of advocating for myself.
I wondered then, as I often do now, about the many people who never have the blessing of experiencing this kind of compassionate feedback and lament at what a missed opportunity that is.
So if or when you have the opportunity to coach or mentor someone and want to help them develop in a certain area by sharing feedback, consider the following tips to do so carefully and effectively.
- Be specific. The worst kind of feedback, is vague or generic feedback that does not pinpoint specific examples of the behavior or issue you’d like the individual to address. Statements like, “good job” or “you should prioritize better” don’t help to narrow down the things that are working well and should be maintained, or not working well and need to be adjusted. However, qualifying statements like, “good job on delivering a very clear, concise and compelling presentation. The way you visualized the story helped bring the audience along.” can go much further to motivate and also clarify expectations around what good looks like in the future. The same clarity goes when giving constructive feedback.
- Give examples. If the feedback is related to a particular behavior, it is helpful to make note of specific examples of when the behavior was observed so that these can be recalled when giving feedback. It will bring the receiver back to the moment and what was going on – all context that makes the feedback become internalized in more lasting ways than in the absence of specific examples.
- Be timely. Never wait too long before giving feedback. The more distance between the moment a behavior is observed and the moment that feedback is received, the more challenging the conversation can become.
- Be empathetic. Try to find a time and space that works for the person with whom you are going to speak. You don’t want them to feel cornered or caught off guard. Ask them whether they are open to receiving feedback. And only if they say yes, should you proceed to share your thoughts.
Feel free to share your own experiences with giving and receiving feedback in the comments section below. We’d love to hear.