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Do you also feel the pain of corrective feedback?

Mirjami Sipponen-Damonte

I attended this session where I felt I was wasting my time. I thought I knew what the goal was, but maybe I had misunderstood. I felt disengaged and confused. I thought of many other better ways I could’ve used my time.

So what to do? Should I give feedback? I personally know the person conducting the session and know she had invested time and effort in it. I wouldn’t want her to feel bad of her work. I wouldn’t want her to think of me as over demanding “I know how this is supposed to go” attendee. If I was conducting the session, would I want to know that someone was disappointed with it? Hell yes. But I have a Master’s Degree in receiving feedback. And yet, sometimes, it is still hard. I always want to know what I can do better, what is there to improve. But at the same time, I need to face that fact that after all these years I can’t get it always right. I’m not perfect, but just a student in a life-long school. Would I want to be perfect? Sometimes.

Even though I don’t like giving corrective feedback (I guess that’s my over empathetic personality), when the moment comes, I almost always do. I just go there at the edge of my comfort zone, sometimes a little further from there also. And it sometimes drains my energy. Why do I still do that? Because I know that it is the only right thing to do. People deserve the truth, just like I deserve the truth. We can only grow with that. And sometimes growing hurts a little, but we owe that to each other as well. Because it shouldn’t be about making other people feel good about themselves or being likable for them (oh I wish it was about that, I would be so good in it!), but giving them the possibility for a learning experience. And that, as one of my training participants lately said, is an act of caring.

It sounds like I’m not alone with this thought, as I’m hearing more and more organizations talking about the importance of feedback culture, ongoing feedback, continuous feedback, giving and receiving feedback, lessons learned, retrospectives, open and honest feedback. Many organizations want to – and many more would need to – adopt cultures of continuous learning, that also are aimed at developing individuals’ and collective performance. I totally buy that and that’s the kind of culture we have also consciously built in our organization. But how to make the words alive? How to make also corrective feedback part of an organization’s culture? For sure it requires a conscious effort throughout the organization including all levels. If you, as a manager, want to nourish a culture of continuous learning, you need to open yourself to be vulnerable. You need to accept your imperfections.

Some tips that could help you along the way:

Have a conversation about feedback:

Discuss in your team why open feedback culture (or however you want to call it) is important. What are the aim and the benefits of it. Invite people to share good and bad experiences they’ve had of giving and receiving feedback. Invite them to share about their hesitations, maybe fears, of giving and receiving feedback.

Establish rules for feedback:

All feedback is not good feedback. If the feedback (on positive or negative behavior) doesn’t help you grow, it wasn’t feedback worth giving. It shouldn’t be judgmental, but specific on actions observed. Establish together rules that make it easier for everyone to give and receive feedback, without compromising the value of another person’s honest perception.

Start recognizing people for what they do well:

The trust is built through recognizing people for what they are good at. Don’t assume they know what you appreciate in them. Be specific on behaviors and avoid judgements also when giving feedback on what someone is doing well. Be generous with feedback on positive behaviours.

Be an example by inviting corrective feedback and reacting to it constructively:

If you want to be an ambassador of feedback culture, you need to show others how it works. Invite corrective feedback, listen with attention, ask for examples. Say thank you. Are you ready for this? If it doesn’t sound like a good idea to you, ask yourself why. What are your thoughts and feelings telling you?

Celebrate successes:

Take moments for sharing learnings that have been enabled by feedback. Help people to see the value and encourage them to continue. Take also a moment for yourself to reflect on how you have grown thanks to feedback.

The thing is that both giving and receiving feedback are very intimate experiences and therefore, opening that channel require experiences of trust and safety. I warmly salute all these terms I see around and deeply hope that leaders really make the effort of turning these buzzwords into truly meaningful experiences of individual and organizational growth.

So, what happened with my session experience as attendee? I decided to give a call and have a chat (well you know, like I had a choice). The person also felt that the session hadn’t gone that well but wasn’t sure why. In our discussion I was able to give some concrete examples and improvement suggestions that she could relate with. I afterwards received a thankful e-mail.

P.S. We are soon introducing a fantastic online tool that supports open & honest, highly engaging and qualitative feedback discussions also remotely. Stay tuned to learn more!

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