feedback

That rarely happens, sometimes when I give feedback I don’t get thanked, I get a blank stare or a mutter of defence. Then I am very sorry I took the risk of saying anything at all and keep quiet the next time. Feedback comes with negative connotations, such as rejection, loss of status, fear of failure…..  It’s a pity that our experiences of feedback are so negative for many reasons and especially at work because we know that to receive fair, non-judgemental feedback based on evidence, is a unique event, in fact a gift, which we should try to welcome and encourage in our lives.  Seeing ourselves as others see is, can, if graciously experienced, be the path to wisdom, self-awareness and understanding.  And who would not want those for ourselves, yes please I say. Feedback can lead directly to improvement and growth, in ourselves, in our relationships and in doing our work.

So… how to do it?  In all the years I have worked in HR and Training, I have been looking for the right process and along the way have wondered is there even a process out there that will help or am I approaching it all from the wrong direction in the first place.  After all, when it comes down to it, feedback is about communication and understanding:  it’s about the experience and how we feel.  Not easy at all.  Then I discovered NVC ( non-violent communication), given to me by a colleague in the UK , Dorothy Nesbitt, a kind and generous Mentor. Dorothy introduced me to the idea of non-violent communication and at first I was a bit, well more than a bit, sceptical.  Will this wash with busy operational managers who are juggling so many projects, people and meetings day-in and day-out looking for quick fixes to their people problems: how to manage ‘difficult’ situations is a classic request and how to improve performance, another one.

The process for giving and receiving feedback successfully so that it is accepted and understood, is taken from studies and training using NVC with the very simple but extremely powerful concept of putting understanding at the heart of communication.  Well I was always a huge fan of Stephen Covey and his mantra: ‘seek to understand, not to be understood’, so I took to the NVC ideas fairly quickly and started to integrate them into coaching and training with, I have to say, a lot of success across a very broad spectrum of people including managers and leaders. The process has four simple components:

  • The concrete actions we observe
  • How we are feeling in relation to what we are observing
  • The needs, values, desires….behind our feelings
  • The concrete actions we request to happen

When we use this process in communication we are focused, attentive, actively listening to the last word, asking questions for clarification, reflecting back to check understanding and most of all, we are proactively seeking to understand.  Like all good things in life, its simplicity is its strength but as a skill it takes time to learn and effort to implement but what rewards it will bring you and your work. Why not try it out in a safe situation at home and learn how to use it fluently before extending it to other situations, for example:

Observe: what is actually happening in the situation: what are you observing others saying or doing that is affecting you? You need to be able to articulate this observation without any hint of judgment or evaluation whatsoever: to simply say what people are doing that you either like or don’t like.  This is not easy, as your emotions may be high and your feelings about the situation strong.  You need to try very hard to separate your emotions from the observation in order to gain clarity.  You will need to leave your judgement, evaluation and position ‘go’ in order to observe the truth.  For example:

John (14 year old son), each Wednesday and Friday this month you have left your sports bag in the hall for everyone to fall over as they come in the door. Then it sits there until the next time you need it full of dirty boots and sports gear which are unuseable and so panic ensues and you are late for training.

Feeling

Next, state how you feel when you observe this situation: what are your feelings.

John, this makes me feel disappointed and frustrated when I see the bag left there time and time again.

Needs

Thirdly, state what needs of yours are connected to the feelings you have identified.

I am disappointed and frustrated because I need you to understand that being part of the family means pulling your weight and making family life easier by doing so.  I need to see you having respect for your own belongings and taking responsibility for your sports gear.

Request

Finally, make a very specific request, which is very clear and forthcoming

Starting tomorrow, Friday and for every Wednesday and Friday from now on, empty your sports bag, clean your boots, put away the dirty sports-wear to be washed and bring your sports bag up to your bedroom every time you come in the door.

I’ve come to realise that the simplest ways are the best as a lot of the time quite difficult situations can be approached in a very simple way. There’s just that one crucial obstacle in the way: our emotions and holding on tight to what we think is right, our views and opinions. If we are able to leave these go, understanding has a chance to flow back and forth, and it’s truly amazing what results can be achieved.  I’m waiting to see the empty sports bag float its way up the stairs and you know, most of the time it does. Does he thank me for the feedback, well that’s one step too far for a 14 year old, but you know I think he might do so when he’s older (hopefully!). It’s the joy of parenthood, oh and by the way, Happy Mother’s Day!

.Anne Marie

Anne Marie Crowley, based in Cork, is a free-lance Coach and Trainer in the field of behavioural change for individuals and business.  Anne Marie is the founder of Crowley Personal and Business Change.

2 thoughts on “Give feedback and be thanked ……

  1. There is feedback and then there is feedback. Not quite sure what your feed back focuses on. As an HR person your example reminded me of a mother of a teen age son who is a typical sloppy guy into sports and doesn’t take the time to put his things away. What does this have to do with HR, careers, jobs and a giving feedback after interviews and the like?

    I think the four simple components mentioned are valuable and a good ldea to keep in mind as we observe situations and try to come up with genuine helpful feedback. But those skills aren’t always necessary in every situation.

    I have found over my 35 year career in recruiting, owning my own company and in coaching that sensitive honesty is the best policy. People like to hear the truth, whether it’s positive or negative and the delivery of such news is highly important. People want to improve, people want to know if and where they are sabotaging themselves, how could they not? Of course praise is always welcome but then I am asked, “If I’m so great and have what they’re looking for why didn’t I get the job or promotion etc.?”

    Most of the people I have given feedback to have thanked me. Most of the people I’ve had to let go or just plain fire them have thanked me. It’s really a matter of how you present the material and your motives for either trying to help them hold on their dignity and feel worthy or the reverse, make them feel lousy and like losers. Your choice. Good article to make one think.

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    1. Dear Cheryl, thank you for your feedback (hey there it goes!). I am glad the post made you think. The reason I gave the ‘teenage son’ example was to encourage the reader to practise the process in a ‘safe’ environment and hone the skills of giving/receiving feedback so that it becomes a habit and comes easily when giving/receiving feedback in other situations, for example to resolve conflict or to give feedback at work. I think the beauty of the NVC process is that it really can be used in all situations: the use of emotions, like feelings and needs make it powerful for change. I suppose when you are firing someone the time for feedback is more than likely over (unless there is some hope that the situation can be turned around). My view of feedback is that it is for supporting/ changing/ endorsing/improving the experience and the end of a relationship, if the decision is final, is too late. I totally agree with you when you say that dignity, sincerity, truth, straight-talking are integral to healthy and positive human relations whether inside or outside the workplace. Thank you so much for your comments, much appreciated. Anne Marie

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