Giving Feedback Is a Responsibility, Not a Courtesy

People work harder if they know compensation is waiting for them at the end of the line. Yet, studies show that shortly after getting a financial incentive, actually in less than a week, people lose their motivation and their energy levels go down. Financial compensation is a two-edged sword, and should not stand as the only motivator. Truth be told, meaningfulness and recognition matter more. People want to be recognized for their efforts. They need to know if and how they’ve contributed to the team’s success. And they can only find out, if they receive feedback. Regularly, honestly, and with care.
In any process, team or business, feedback is many things. A necessary ritual, a moment of truth, a condition to progress, and sometimes a dreadful experience. This article explains the why, when, and how of giving and receiving feedback. Because, whether we like it or not, people need to know that their work matters, that it has meaning.

Photo by José Alejandro Cuffia on Unsplash

Why is feedback hard to give and take

I’ve never seen anyone reluctant to bringing, or receiving good news. The difficulty in delivering the message arises when there’s bad news on the horizon. Because negative reviews force both sides to step out of their comfort zone and make efforts. Contrary to what feedback receivers believe, this experience is equally uncomfortable on both ends.
When giving feedback, people need to focus on accurately and carefully delivering their message – find the right words and tone, even the right time for it, anticipate and prepare for reactions. Leaving aside the amount of resources it requires, the fear that the receiver might not react productively makes people dither feedback to the point it becomes useless.
On the other hand, when receiving feedback, people need to be ready to listen, overcome their fear of criticism (because, in most cases, it’s there), and internalize the message, without allowing it to jeopardize their self-esteem. That’s not easy either, particularly due to the tendency to translate criticism into a self-imposed “you’re-not-good-enough” label. This activates the pressure to be at least “as good as” if not “better than.” It’s an automatism deeply rooted in childhood and school experiences; the backlash of the competitive environments cultivated by our society at all its levels.
But the truth is feedback does not say who you are, and that should be a relief to those who have a hard time receiving feedback. Review sessions are mere opportunities to revisit the initial work context, identify and appreciate efforts, reiterate objectives, suggest adjustments and amendments – all for the sake of a double goal: personal progress and team success.

The downsides of late feedback

I personally believe that the only thing that makes feedback good or bad is timing. If it’s not delivered at the right time, the value of the message depreciates. Think of praise and encouragement. Even they lose effect, if delayed. So, when is the right time? It’s simple, when people need to hear it. So, whether positive or negative, feedback needs to happen in due time.
Recent studies say the more frequent, the better. For example, in a TriNet survey, approximately 85% of Millennials said they’d feel more confident if they had more frequent conversations with their managers. Another one shows that 42% of Millennials want feedback every week, which is more than twice the percentage of every other generation. And it makes sense, because this new generation doesn’t see managers as bosses, but as a source of inspiration. So the need to check in as often as possible is more than justified. And when it comes to interns, who are by default needy for guidance, feedback entails even more delicate discussions.
Without being told if/how they’ve contributed to the common work context, people rely solely on self-assessment, which is by default subjective. And this is when feedback should come in, to mirror their interpretation of facts. If they’re right in quantifying and qualifying personal contribution, they feel more self-confident and more energized to carry on and progress. However, they still want their efforts to be appreciated. It’s that need for recognition we all carry within. In his Politics of Recognition, Charles Taylor said:

“Due recognition is not just a courtesy we owe people. It is a vital human need.”

Through feedback, people get the chance to clarify misunderstandings. They get a chance to discuss improvements with co-workers that either are more experienced, or simply have a more objective perspective.

Frequent feedback is equally beneficial for those of us who need to assess and review. Because it reduces the risks of miscommunication and repeated errors, giving both sides the necessary time to suggest improvements and fix problems.

Make feedback less of a burden

The main reason in delaying feedback is usually lack of time. Then, there’s the emotional effort on both sides. Either way, if you want to make feedback less of a burden, you can try these small routine changes.

Stop calling it feedback

You can start with that, because some may find the term “feedback” too decisive. I’m not trying to undermine its importance by changing its name. I simply believe that if you call it heads-on, or short talk, or pep talk, people won’t dread it so much and both sides will be more willing to talk and listen.

Stick to structure and honesty

Negative feedback is usually met with reluctance, regardless of your good intentions. Therefore, you can’t afford checking in without doing your homework first. If people sense that you’re not prepared, your advice will most likely fall on deaf ears. So make sure you:

  • announce the discussion in advance, so that people come in mentally prepared
  • equally stress the right and wrong in their work
  • ground your views on data and provide clear examples
  • listen to and hear the other person out
  • agree on the next steps and actions
  • suggest a second meeting to diffuse fears, if you notice meltdowns

Don’t address pay and compensation in the same discussion, because people will lose focus and won’t really hear your message. Conditioning them into performing better for the sake of compensation is only a short-term solution. In the long run, it won’t help them adopt best practices, or improve work routine.
And don’t compliment people to compensate for your criticism either. You’ll sound dishonest, which is actually worse than negative feedback itself. If you want to learn why a candid approach is worth it, check out this article.

Break it into regular chunks

Don’t leave reviews strictly for the end of the quarter, semester or year. It’s hard even to remember what’s been done, let alone recover the damages or improve work practices that have been going on for too long.
Break long-term reviews into smaller chunks and make them as frequent as possible. For instance, you can incorporate them into 15-minute heads-ups every two weeks, or once a month, if your schedule is full. Either way, my advice is that you have these talks on Friday afternoons, so that people can take the time and dwell on your message. You may even suggest they can come back with questions on Monday.

Choose technology over time-consuming meetings 

Having frequent, short reviews will actually save you more time than you think. You don’t have to turn feedback sessions into never-ending meetings. In fact, they don’t even need to happen face-to-face. An instant team communication solution like Hubgets lets you talk privately through one-to-one chats with voice and video calls. If necessary, you can instantly share resources through file transfer and you can do screen sharing. If you need to deliver feedback to more than just one person, you can simply open a group Topic and share opinions in full privacy.
Having a dedicated feedback channel that doesn’t take a hold of your work hours, restrict your schedule, or impose a specific reaction time makes things easier for those who need to assess and evaluate. As for those who need feedback, the advantages are more than obvious. Firstly, it’s not face-to-face, unless you want to have a video conference. Secondly, it opens the door for getting advice without having to schedule a meeting or wait for another three months. Thirdly, it’s instant, direct, and less formal.

4 easy ways to receive feedback

Earlier I mentioned lack of time as one of the reasons for which people keep delaying feedback, but that’s not the only culprit. If people don’t see you act on their feedback, they’ll be less willing to waste their work time and help you improve in the future. In a way, it’s history repeating – they invest time and effort in helping you, while, by not making use of their guidance, you’re not recognizing their contribution.
Nonetheless, if you want to receive feedback more often, you should try these tips:

  1. Simply request it. Yes, explicitly request feedback. If it matters to you, let them know. To show your determination, you may even suggest the best time for it.
  2. Appreciate it. Even if you’re dealing with criticism, remember that the ultimate goal of the advice you’re offered is not embarrass you, but to help you. So, show them you value their opinion.
  3. Take advantage of it. Don’t get defensive, even though it’s the easiest way out of an uncomfortable situation. You might miss valuable information. Use the criticism as a foundation for clarity. Ask questions to gain more insights that will help you in the future.
  4. Put into practice. Taking into consideration people’s feedback shows that you respect their competence. By implementing their advice, you will encourage them to offer their guidance in the future.

The approaches to giving and receiving feedback are many. While some prefer candid conversations, others would rather be pampered. Whatever its form or channel, feedback should become a frequent routine. It’s the only to identify impediments in due time and steer work progress in the right direction. Properly handled, i.e. with honesty and care, feedback can inspire people to embrace change, improve, and work more.
How do you tackle feedback in your organization? Is it a ritual already? Is it constructive? You’re welcome to share your experience in the comments below.

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