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Feedback - The Key to Growth

Feedback. The word itself sort of makes you want to cringe, doesn’t it? When someone asks if they can give us feedback our minds immediately spiral into thoughts of what we did wrong. Never do we think someone is going to tell us what went well, or how we excelled – and it leaves us sort of wishing everyone would refrain from ever speaking the word. But what if feedback was viewed in a positive light? What if feedback wasn’t so scary? What if it was packaged in such a matter-of-fact way that allowed you to reflect on your actions and grow

The truth is that we rarely see feedback for what it is: a subjective representation of what happened, followed by insights on what went well and what needed to improve. Why? There are not many people in this world that know how to give constructive feedback. Their execution is either too harsh or so wrapped up in fluff the person on the receiving end has no clue how they should improve. This leaves it to us to find a way to get what not everyone will just hand out. 

So how can we get that much needed information if people aren’t handing it out like candy? Let’s take a look:

In every situation, reflect.

First and foremost, before anyone can give you feedback you need to have a general understanding of how you believe you performed in a given situation. Did you prepare for weeks beforehand but bomb the day of? Were you able to think so quickly on your feet that you rocked a client meeting? Did you appear disheveled and have jelly down your shirt? Did you stutter over your words? Whatever happened, reflect on it and figure out how you want to do better next time. But don’t just reflect on the bad things, also think about what went well. I don’t just do it for myself, I also think about how others did. I use this as a baseline for when I receive feedback - how closely aligned are our perceptions of the situation (or not!)?

Real time is key.

Personally, I only remember specific details about a scenario if I reflect and/or talk about them soon after a situation takes place. My general rule of thumb is: Whether you are giving or receiving feedback, it should happen in real time. By “real time”, I mean the day of or the next day. Why is that important?

As an employee I do not want to find out what I did wrong six months later in my performance review. I want to know now so I can personally reflect on a specific scenario and improve. As a manager, do you really want to hold on to that piece of feedback for months until you host a formal employee review? What prevents your employee from repeating that mistake again in the time that lapses? Say the feedback and move on. 

Be direct.

No, I’m not telling you to be mean. I’m telling you to be honest with yourself and direct with others. Give concrete examples of a real-life situation they were a part of and indicate your perception of the situation vs. how you believe they should have reacted/what they could change for the future. Here is an example:

Manager to employee: “Susie, you did a really great job delivering the presentation today. I thought the audience was really engaged and the verbal content was right on point. There were a few slides that seemed cluttered which took away from your speech. Let’s sit down and review those later this week so you have a better understanding of what I am talking about. I’d like you to make some adjustments over the next couple days. I think this will only help you improve for our meeting next week.”

I think that is something a good manager would say to his/her employee. A leader would encourage that person to reflect as well and might throw in something like, “I know one way I can help you is to talk through these slides. How else could I have better supported you for this meeting?”. I truly believe that we can learn as much from our employees as they can learn from us. That is a manager’s way of saying, “Here’s my feedback to you, now it’s your turn. How did I do?”. It’s such a great way for you to practice giving feedback in a comfortable setting.

Start asking for it.

What are we as humans most afraid of? The unknown. And the more something smacks us in the face, the less afraid of it we are. So what am I telling you to do? Walk up to your boss or colleague after a presentation, client meeting, etc. and ask them to debrief with you. Tell them you want to talk through what went well and what could be improved for next time. If they seem a little baffled, then you can guide the conversation. Here is an example of how you could guide the feedback session:

“I was so grateful that you had that data handy, Seth. I really appreciate how prepared you were. I think next time we need to make sure that we review that information beforehand so there are less surprises and we aren’t winging our responses. I felt very confident in the presentation itself and I got the impression the client felt the same, but I think we could have been a little more prepared for the client to ask XYZ questions. How do you think the meeting went? I’d love to hear your input on how I can improve for next time”.

I will forever tell you, “You don’t get what you don’t ask for.”. This doesn’t just pertain to salary increases or negotiations; you can apply it to anything. People typically only speak up when something goes wrong, not when it goes right. Don’t wait for something to go wrong in order to receive feedback. If you know you want to move forward in any area of your life, I encourage you to seek out the feedback yourself — because feedback isn’t scary, it’s just a big unknown. So don’t let it stop you, let it help you grow. 

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