A couple of weeks ago I wrote about mentoring and got lots of feedback about the need for it. So in the spirit of adult learning, I am going to lead by example and be vulnerable by sharing something that happened to me. Last week, after delivering an all-day corporate workshop, I sent my usual satisfaction survey. I felt good about most of the day, but felt that one section could have been stronger. I love what happened next because it was such an important reminder of the power of effective feedback:
- The client asked if we could talk by phone. Carving out time to really focus, and giving verbal instead of written feedback, allows for a much richer conversation. The feedback can be more nuanced, and you can read how a person is responding and adjust. Plus, the words are less likely to be misinterpreted.
- He used the sandwich method: Good/bad/good. The sandwich method doesn’t work if it’s just a couple of insincere “good” comments around a critique. However, it IS powerful as a way to contextualize the situation. Human nature makes us focus on what we didn’t do right. When we are reminded that we did a really good job in the big picture, it reduces the critique and makes it more about “always improving,” less about being wrong.
- Be specific. The more you can untangle the feedback, the easier it is to tackle the improvement. In this case, the client did this masterfully. I could tell he had taken the time to think about it, which made me feel like a respected partner. And, he was also specific about the good, which made me much more open.
- Take the feedback with grace. This step is critical. It’s uncomfortable to give feedback. When you acknowledge the person, it instantly reduces the tension. It doesn’t mean you have to agree. But when you accept the person’s feedback you can get curious and ask for more specifics, which leads to better information. Remember that feedback is frequently off the mark. People are nervous, they may have another agenda or they sometimes offer feedback that they really need themselves. If you become defensive, you break the flow and you don’t get past the initial awkwardness to the really useful stuff. Accepting the feedback builds trust. Then you can explain the choices and intentions that led to the mistake and it won’t sound defensive.
- Don’t give up too soon. After we got past the meaty stuff, I asked the other questions I had. It was worth it to stay in the discomfort because 1) I got some nice feedback on some positive impact I’d had and 2) We came up with an idea I can use in the future.
Asking for feedback doesn’t have to come across as needy. It’s an objective request for information that will help you improve. As a mentor, remember that you don’t always have to know everything when you are the boss. Cleaning up a misunderstanding is a powerful way to gain your team’s respect. If you are the reporting employee, remember that if we never make mistakes, we are not learning. And showing resilience to feedback signals that you are ready to go to grow in the organization.