Feedback is a Cuss Word

Feedback has become the new/newest buzz word to replace rigid performance appraisal sessions with employees but for many employees the word feedback is a “cuss word”. Why is this? the word itself simply means giving someone information in real-time about their performance, whether good, bad or indifferent. Yet many employees hate when they receive an email titled feedback, or they are asked to participate in 360 degree feedback sessions on their managers, peers or subordinates. Body language also changes dramatically when you open a conversation by saying “I thought I would give you some feedback”. Immediately postures become defensive, a coldness enters the meeting, arms are folded, chairs are moved back further away as if to put distance between what is coming and the individual.

Fear becomes a living thing in the meeting room and in extreme cases individuals have shut down or even started to cry as they started to work through all the possible negative things that they may done or caused to happen in the last couple of days or weeks. Sometimes the fear is so potent that they have stopped listening immediately you mention the word feedback and are so busy working out in their mind what they have done wrong that they fail to actually hear what is being said.

It could be that such reactions are due to individuals having experienced a lot of negative feedback in the past which has coloured their perceptions. Or it could be that genuinely we are a culture in the UK that thrives so much on innuendo and being savvy to navigating politics in the workplace; using words to say one thing while meaning another that we have not adequately trained our people from a young age to see feedback as a positive thing regardless of whether is telling us how to improve or how to be even better.

I grew up in a culture where people spoke their minds, nothing was hidden, so it felt useless to fear the unknown because truly was anything ever unknown? I grew up in a village where everyone regardless of whether they were related to me or not took great accountability for parenting me. If my dress was creased, I would be told this several times while walking to school and given advice on how to achieve the perfectly ironed dress. The more forward in the village may even take me into their home and show me how to iron a dress properly.

No subject was off-limits, from personal hygiene, to school work, to spiritual wellbeing, morals etc you name it and someone without prompting would be on hand to offer you advice on how to be better or avoid a pitfall whether you wished to have the advice or not. This was the ultimate feedback culture in which I grew and which has shaped me.

So I had some thoughts about how we can change the fear that people feel when they either need to give or receive feedback:

  • put yourself in the person’s shoes and do onto others as you would have them do to you. If you are coming from a place of wanting to help someone to improve or to keep doing something that they are doing well, because this is what you would wish for yourself, you are able to approach the conversation in a very different light.
  • think about the damage or the limits you are placing on that person by not speaking up. Why would you not offer praise where praise is due? equally if your colleague had a stumble, surely you would not want them to stumble again or worse fall? think about the reason why you give information.
  • my personal favourite it when you think about giving or receiving feedback and the fear creeps in, ask it firmly “what is the worse that can happen?” in reality often we let our fear makes things into a lot worse than they really are. Open up yourself and listen, you may be surprised at the results.

So have you provided or received feedback recently? share your views here, I would be happy to hear how you approach it!

Remember FEAR can also mean Face Everything and Rise!

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