Feedback’s Nasty Reputation

I’ve been thinking a lot about feedback lately. I’m developing a coaching class for a client and one of the components, of course, is giving positive and balanced feedback. Both are vital components of coaching and the ability to give both effectively is very important to any coach—beginner to expert. But that isn’t what this blog is about. It’s about the common perception of the word “feedback” and how most people in the business community feel about getting it and giving it.

I became curious about this when I began learning to be a coach and then again when I started coaching others. It was VERY interesting watching the reaction of the person I was coaching when I would say to them that I wanted to share some feedback. Their eyes got a bit bigger and their overall body language told me that they were in the process of putting walls up.

These reactions seemed to be universal as I coached more and more people and asked to share feedback with them. So I started to ask, “When I asked to share feedback with you, what immediately came to your mind?” The overwhelming answer was that I was about to share some bad news about their performance, their actions, or their behaviors. Wow!

When did feedback become the vehicle to deliver bad news? Feedback is just what it sounds like—the opportunity for someone to “feed” their opinions, observations, and suggestions “back” to another. When did it become an overwhelmingly negative experience? Because of what I learned, I became a crusader for cleaning up feedback’s bad reputation. I started calling it “balanced” feedback, which usually prompted the question, “What does that mean?”

Balanced feedback is the process of enabling the person receiving the feedback to focus on what was good, or positive, about their performance, actions, or behaviors in a certain situation; then enabling that same person to focus on what he/she could do better if he/she had to do it again. Funny…I didn’t see the words “bad news” in that definition at all!

Let’s face it. None of us is perfect and none of us acts in a perfect way all the time. However, if we are given the chance to receive feedback from another and it’s done in such a way that we, receiving the feedback, can reflect on good behaviors as well as behaviors we think need improvement, then “feedback” becomes exactly that: it’s information that helps us balance focus between positive, which we want to continue, and constructive, which we know we should change. A good coach/manager will create a dialogue that allows the person being coached to self-discover these.

So, if you’re guilty of perpetuating the bad reputation that feedback has by using it as a weapon or a vehicle to beat someone down, STOP IT! Feedback is a very useful and collaborative tool that can create a rich environment of self-discovery, self-coaching, and ultimately success. It’s time we picked feedback up out of the mud, cleaned it off, and put it out on the front porch where everyone can see it, admire it, and use it the way it is supposed to be used!

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