Feedback ~ Criticism or Opportunity?

“Feedback is the breakfast of Champions” or so says Ken Blanchard. But I’m wondering how many of us truly have an appetite for it.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I, like many of you, believe that feedback is an important element in learning and growth.  But, (and there is one) I think it has a way of feeling like bad news a lot of the time.

Why is that I wonder?  Well, first of all a very common view of feedback is this.  Feedback equals Criticism.

When I looked up the word criticism, here are some synonyms that greeted me…reprehend, censure, reprobate, condemn, denounce. Okay then, I can’t wait to get me some of that!

Often too, the experiences we have around performance management time can bring on an allergic reaction to feedback because, despite good intention, it is often delivered badly and received equally badly…a breakfast of champions complete with sour milk.

Perhaps, then, the task for all of us is to shift the perspective of feedback from one that equals criticism to one that equals opportunity.

So, where is the opportunity in both delivering and receiving feedback?  Here’s what I’ve been thinking:

For the Receiver there is opportunity

1. For personal growth in learning how others see us.

After all, we only see ourselves from the inside out.  The value of having others observe us and give us information about what they see is undeniable.

2. For positive change

Information about ourselves gives us a chance to make changes that have some personal meaning.  I think the hardest part about making change is the commitment it takes to sustain new behaviour.   Knowing why a change is important helps us to remain on course and raises the potential for experiencing positive results from our efforts.

For the Giver there is opportunity:

3. To build relationships that include trust

Feedback becomes a gift when it is presented sincerely and without judgment.  As well, when it is given as part of a conversation rather than a laundry list of things to fix, it is more palatable for the receiver and allows for deeper understanding on both sides.

4.  To convey  belief in the receiver’s capabilities & potential contribution

Giving feedback allows us to paint a picture of what we believe another is truly capable of and to shape our expectations around those beliefs.  If we simply demand a certain level of performance without inviting input or considering what people might need to make it possible, we will likely be met with resentment rather than interest.

Okay, so this might address some of the why for shifting a negative perspective of feedback to a more positive one (and there are doubtless more reasons for doing so as well) but it doesn’t speak to the how.  So here are a few of my thoughts on that:

As Givers of feedback if we take the opportunity perspective we must:

1. Be clear about what we’re looking for

This means that if we are going to observe someone going about their work and then provide meaningful and useful information to them, both parties have to be focusing on the same things.  Feedback, after all, is comprised not of a single conversation but a series of conversations that lead to change and growth.

2. Make conversation and observation a daily habit

Sitting down with someone once a year to talk about performance and outcomes does not engender an opportunity based perspective on feedback.  Instead, it becomes something one dreads.  Having daily conversations with people and making daily observations about their activities facilitates good and useful exchanges of information.

3. Avoid the “poop sandwich” approach

Who is not familiar with this?  Its starts by saying something positive; ends with something positive and then sandwiches the not-so-good stuff in between.  I personally don’t like this approach because it feels contrived.  And, by the way, no one is fooled by it.

As Receivers of feedback, in taking the opportunity perspective we must:

4. Participate in the conversation

In my experience, people who say nothing during a session that includes personal feedback can have plenty to say when the session is over, and to people who can only serve to commiserate.  While this might feel good at the time, it really isn’t very helpful.  Participating in the conversation means asking questions.  It sometimes means disagreeing and challenging.  But it also means there is opportunity to understand as well as to be understood.  That alone has great value.

5. Take the view that feedback is as often positive as it is negative

Whenever someone says, “May I give you some feedback?”  It is tempting to say “Uh-Oh.  What have I done now?”

To be open to receiving feedback I think we must also do our best to wipe out the negative “tapes” that play between our ears about it.  In short, an open mind helps.

So, what are your thoughts about giving and receiving feedback?  What is your experience with it?  What would you add?

Oh, and just in case you want to learn more, try reading Joe Folkman’s book, Turning Feedback into Change” It’s a useful reference book for those who want to better understand the principles around personal development and making change through feedback.



Filed under Building Relationships, Change Management, communication, Employee engagement, Self Knowledge

6 responses to “Feedback ~ Criticism or Opportunity?

  1. Hi Gwyn,
    What a great comprehensive post! Your points here go beyond feedback and speak directly to a successful organizational culture.

    Keep ’em coming…

    Landon Creasy

  2. Great post, Gwyn. I particularly like your point about receivers of feedback participating in the process. As you pointed out in your piece, we often tend to view feedback negatively, as a laundry list of things we did wrong or that we have to fix.

    But by encouraging feedback to be a conversation, as opposed to a simple one-way dialogue of one person telling the other one what they need to work on, I think there’s a greater chance for feedback to be welcomed because under such circumstances, both parties are essentially rolling up their sleeves to figure out how to achieve the ideas/goals being discussed through the feedback session.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Tanveer,

      I don’t know about you, but I wish too, that we could come up with another word for those conversations. The word “feedback” has always irked me. It sounds more like something loud that that ricochet’s off you rather than something that offers itself to you for consideration.

      Got any ideas? We could start a new vocabulary around this!

      Thanks for your usual thoughtful comments.

  3. ava diamond (@feistywoman)

    This is a wonderful post. I wonder if you’re familiar with “feedforward”, which was developed by Marshall Goldsmith. I use it often at my speeches and trainings, as well as teach it to people in organizations to use internally.

    Here’s an article he wrote describing it….sort of turns the whole notion upside down…

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Ava,

      I think the term “feedforward” is much more inviting! And, thanks for pointing me in the direction of Marshall Goldsmith’s article.
      I like this process because it starts with the individual stating what s/he wants to change rather than someone else suggesting that s/he should…gets the conversation off on the right foot! And, I like the future focused nature of it too.
      Thanks again for coming by and adding great value to the post 🙂

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