How to Give Effective Feedback and Build Trust in the Workplace
Updated: Mar 15, 2021
Introduction - Feedback Fear
Is feedback painful for you to give or receive? It’s a worthwhile question to ask - why do we hate it so much? One reason: we’re afraid of damaging important relationships. Meaning the more important the relationship, the more we avoid those tough conversations with reasons like:
I’m not sure how to frame it without seeming petty/insulting
They doesn’t MEAN to be doing the wrong thing
I don’t want them to fear/hate/avoid/distrust me
I don’t want to start a fight
I had a bad experience with feedback in thepast
Sound familiar? I’ve been there!
Critical Feedback and Building Trust
Now - let’s look at the flip side: think of a time that you’ve received a piece of feedback that you REALLY appreciated. Maybe it provided clarity on your strengths, weaknesses, or impact that helped you grow. How did that feedback impact your relationship with your work, with the feedback giver, and most importantly, with yourself?
Here’s my story: After an uncharacteristic blow up at a JERK of a colleague from another consulting firm for being (predictably) a jerk in a meeting, my boss joined me in my office, quietly watched me embarrassed-cry, and said, “I know that you know that that blow up didn’t represent your values or our team well. Next time she gets under your skin, do your best to slow down and breathe. Don’t feel you have to fight every battle alone.” Despite this being critical feedback, I felt seen and valued, gained perspective, and STILL talk about that boss as the best boss I ever had (like, right now).
Many of us struggle with feedback, because we see it as inherently negative or combative. But approached differently, honest, respectful, and candid feedback is an essential aspect of building and maintaining healthy, trusted relationships. In fact, the teams that lack this candor can really suffer - bottled frustrations turn into simmering tension, disengagement/avoidance, or all out screaming matches. You know, Thanksgiving!
Yes, both giving and receiving feedback can be scary, but it’s also a real gift… your feedback giver is offering you an additional set of eyes to see yourself from the outside, so that you may better direct your own growth, appreciate your value, and engage meaningfully with those around you.
Learn Why Feedback Matters - Be a More Effective Leader
So - why does the word feedback make our butts clench with anxiety? Here’s a few reasons:
Feedback should be breakfast, but we treat it like it’s Christmas. Most companies only prioritize feedback as part of an annual or semi-annual review, and often only top-down … meaning leaders and their teams are blindsided by criticism that they could have corrected months ago.
We don’t know how to give it! So much feedback is crappy feedback: it’s vague, about something that happened 4 months ago, assumes things about your character or intention that put you on the defensive, or maybe worst of all - is too indirect or “nice” to be understood. I mean, what do you even do with that?
We don’t know how to receive it! If we feel like feedback is an attack, our fight, flight, or freeze defensive instincts kick in, and we fail to do our jobs as feedback recipients - which is to make sure the feedback is clear and actionable.
We don’t give enough positive feedback. We often don’t think to say, “hey, you came across so clear and confident in that presentation! Go you!” But positive feedback is just as powerful as negative feedback in strengthening both relationships and productivity.
It seems so easy and safe to just avoid giving and receiving feedback. It allows us to avoid conflict, maintain the status quo, and assume everything is fine - until… and here’s the hard part… until it is most definitely not fine, and in fact it is a dumpster fire of panic, stress, bad moods, missed opportunities, and late nights.
Examples of Effective Feedback in the Workplace
So, how can you turn this ship around to start integrating feedback as a healthy part of a balanced communication diet? Here are some tips to get started:
Reframe the act of feedback: Think about the feedback giver and recipient NOT as combatants, but rather as teammates with a shared goal: the growth and success of the recipient. Allow that mindset to inform the way you approach both roles as an active and grateful recipient, and a respectful and caring giver.
Be a better giver! Start with empathy to create a safe space for your partner to let down their guard so they can really hear you. Give feedback on the impact of their behavior (not their intention) that is timely, specific, actionable, and non-judgmental. When in doubt, use a feedback framework to organize your thoughts.
Be a better recipient! Take a deep breath to control your fight, flight, or freeze instincts. Listen with curiosity and ask clarifying questions to ensure you’re ready for action.
Give and ask for both positive and constructive feedback daily. Set an alarm. Create a reminder. Make a pledge. Ask a colleague, direct report, or boss. Make feedback simple and informal enough to do daily.
Summary - Resilient Leadership
If you’re thinking, okay, but how do you DO it? What if I fail? You’re right - this takes guts, courage, and practice - the mindset only is half the battle. That’s why ImproVision leads fun, interactive workshops to learn, practice, and get personalized coaching on the critical communication skills that underlie relationship-centered feedback. If you’re ready to help your team create a safe, empowered, and healthy culture to create and grow through feedback, let’s talk!