Do you recall the first time you received feedback? Perhaps it was when you were in school and your teacher mentioned the subjects you needed to put in more hard work. Or maybe it was while playing your favorite sport or learning a new skill and your guide rebuked you for not getting it right. Professionally, feedback sessions would probably have been held during appraisal conversations, right? At a personal level, feedback is given and received between friends, family members and loved ones. Whether given directly or indirectly, feedback is an ubiquitous part of our lives. There is no escape from it!
Irrespective of the situation and/or occasion, feedback has always had this negative connotation to it. This is felt not just by the recipient but also by the feedback provider. It is as though both are caught in the same trap from which there is little escape. And that is because very few feedback sessions are about strengths and what is working well.
The other aspect is the timing of the feedback. People seldom provide feedback there and then. How many of us fill out feedback forms that are circulated post a session/conference? We tend to linger over them or quickly tick the responses skimming through the comments and suggestions column. But there is actually a rationale behind asking for immediate feedback – the mind is fresh with the learning and the listening. Any feedback given immediately tends to be authentic and resonate with what the receiver actually felt.
Research shows that feedback when given constructively and immediately, has the potential to be a game changer and lead to better relationships and outcomes. When you focus on discussions that touch upon what went right and the strengths, it energizes the whole environment.
When comparing the feelings associated between negative and positive feedback, it is not hard to acknowledge that negative feedback can at times translate into ‘unforgettable experiences’ that can erode one’s confidence and self-esteem, leaving behind long and deep scars.
Specific and nonjudgmental feedback has been found to be very effective to bring about transformation both, at the personal as well as professional level. Feedback targeted around behavior patterns that can be changed are also found to result in positive outcomes. This calls for the receiver to be very fine tuned with her/his own reactions/emotions to a situation that warrants feedback. Often, negative feedback from the giver is a mirror to her/his own feelings of anger or resentment towards the situation or person.
For a coach, giving feedback is integral to the process of coaching. Clients are often vulnerable in front of their coaches. After all, they have opened up on an area that is troubling them, and they are seeking solutions through coaching. A sensitive coach is mindful of this environment and focuses on giving feedback that is specific and that which is in control of the recipient. In short, positive feedback that touches upon what is right and emphasizing areas that the client can improve on.
As in any profession or personal life or in a coach-coachee relationship, feedback works best when both the receiver and giver work in true partnership spirit and are comfortable with the conversation.
Take a pause and recall that last feedback. What really bothered you then? Was it the tone of the giver? Or the words? Or the situation? Or did you have a problem with the giver? The environment can play tricks on the human mind and create illusions. It is critical we learn to dissect feedback and look at it with fresh eyes of a learner for improvement.
Effective feedback calls for an increased level of self-awareness on how to give/receive feedback and identify the path ahead. Getting defensive or overreacting or even arguing, provides no answers. What really works is when feedback is seen as an opportunity to learn something new.
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