Honestly, do you give honest feedback?

Feedback is a funny word. It makes some people want to run away, while others thrive on it.  Feedback can be very useful or very destructive. It all comes down to how it’s done.

One of the best experiences I’ve ever had with feedback came from my manager some 20 years ago when I was relatively new as a leader. I thought I was quite a good communicator and took pride in my ability to express myself clearly. In a meeting with a senior person in the organisation, I posed some questions, challenging what he had said – in what I thought was an effective way…. after the meeting my manager came to me and told me something like:

“I know you have a lot of good things to say and your questions are relevant, but whenever you challenge someone, your body language and your tone of voice become aggressive. And for that reason, people get defensive and don’t quite hear what you say – and you aren’t having the impact you could have if you had asked your questions another way. And I think it’s a shame, because as I said, you have a lot of good things to say and could contribute more.”

I was horrified! I had no idea that was how I was coming across. And at first I didn’t want to take it on board – it couldn’t be true, surely!

And as the shock subsided, I realised that she had actually given me a great gift (up until then I had scoffed at the notion of “feedback being a gift”). She could just as easily not have said anything (it probably would have been easier) but she cared enough to tell me as it was, because she wanted me to grow, she wanted me to be able to be more, to do more. And I was grateful beyond words. If she hadn’t told me I might still have been putting people off, unaware of my impact.

One of my greatest learnings from that was this: if you give honest, helpful feedback, focused on observed behaviours and the impact of these, and it all emanates from good intention and care for the other person, then feedback is incredibly useful.

It is a gift, it’s a simple as that. And you never know quite how much of a gift it was until later, when you start getting new, better results.

Thanks for reading, Elisabet