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Is Feedback a Gift or a Curse?

“A curse? Really?”

“I guess I wouldn’t consider ‘feedback’ as a gift either. It just is.”

Feedback is one of those things that someone either craves or they do not look forward to. In a professional setting, feedback can come from our peers, managers, or leadership. It can be structured or unstructured. However it is delivered, it is intended to be a critical evaluation of our work or conduct.

In a non-professional setting, ‘feedback’ is often an opinion being shared.

You’ve likely heard the saying, “Everyone has an opinion.” That’s probably the more PG version of that saying you’ve heard or said before. And it’s true. We all have opinions. Some good. Some bad. Some that we should share with the world to make a better place while others we should keep to ourselves because it serves no one…least not in a positive way.

In either setting, as the deliverers of feedback, the way that we share it determines how it is being received. Believe it or not, providing feedback is a skill. And just like every other skill, we have the ability to master it through practice.

Now, you might be wondering what’s the big deal about feedback or why I would go to such lengths to articulate on the subject.

Remember in the title I asked if it was a gift or a curse? Well, far too many people experience the curse side of feedback instead of the gift side. There is much that goes into why but the area that I want to focus on is the delivery.

Feedback, in many respects, has been to deliver hurt and pain. It may not have started that way, but the end result was a more broken individual.

Do you remember that time you were rejected? It probably wasn’t you..really. It was likely an idea or thought that you shared that was rejected but nevertheless, we take rejection personally.

How about that time where you were the butt of someone’s jokes…where you felt ridiculed?

When it comes to feedback and options, rejection and ridicule are two of the most significant paralyzing emotions that affect receivers. These feelings are cases when feedback becomes weaponized.

Here is what that looks like:

  • Bringing up “old stuff” instead of dealing with the issue at hand.
  • Using words that position the individual as the problem and not the situation or behavior
  • Providing feedback in public while never highlighting the positive often causing humiliation

As the deliverer of feedback and opinion, embracing empathy during your delivery is important, especially if you are giving feedback in an official context like a manager. Why? Because of the way that you deliver results in the way it is received, which determines the receiver’s growth and productivity. And it’s probably a good idea not to be a jerk either.

“Knowing this now, what can we do to make feedback a gift?”

Well, since you asked I have 7 strategies to use feedback as a growth tool.

(1) Evaluate your motives – Even before you begin providing your feedback, ask your self, “What is my motive for doing this?” An honest response will allow you to set the tone for delivering the feedback or not doing so at all.

(2) Be Timely – One of the challenges with feedback in the workplace is that it happens so infrequently. When delivering feedback, make sure that it is within a reasonable timeframe to the situation or behavior.

(3) Declare your Perspective – Too often we say things as facts when they are really just our perspective. When providing feedback, declare your perspective by saying “I felt like…”, “My experience was…”, etc

(4) Praise the Positives – Providing a positive review of others is not only encouraging but it is certainly the right thing to do. Give honor where honor is due by sharing the positives that someone is doing regardless of how big or small.

(5) Reshape the negatives – Negatives do not have to be delivered as such. An error, mistake, or behavior is an opportunity for the person to grow. When we frame it this way, then we arm the receive with a measurable means to see their improvements over time.

(6) Focus on the Situation – Feedback, especially when it is infrequent, can include everything including the kitchen sink. When we focus on specific situations and behaviors then we can focus on improving it.

(7) Provide specific suggestions – The worst feedback are those that are general in nature. You have no idea what you are supposed to do with that feedback. Provide specific recommendations on how to improve.

We have a choice when delivering feedback. We can either weaponize our feedback and cause more damage to another human being or we can employ the 7 strategies I shared here to deliver growth opportunities. The outcome of this choice is drastically different.