The 1 Thing That Makes Feedback Work and 4 Ways to Get It

Feedback Book CoverFeedback has become the dreaded and dirty “F” word at work. No one wants to receive it, most fear giving it, yet everyone needs it in order to grow and improve. So, what do we do? Abandon feedback altogether or fix the way it’s used in the workplace?

M. Tamara Chandler and Laura Dowling Grealish make the case we need to fix the way feedback is viewed, delivered, and received in their book, Feedback (and Other Dirty Words)—Why We Fear It, How To Fix It.

Chandler and Grealish wisely point out that trust is the one thing that will fix the foundation of feedback. Trust is the must-have ingredient for open and honest communication, and feedback isn’t possible without it. When you receive feedback from someone you don’t trust, you question their motives for giving it. Since you don’t trust their intentions, you are likely to immediately discount or disregard their feedback, even if it is true and could help you grow or improve. If you try giving feedback to someone who doesn’t trust you, you are likely to trigger their “fight, flight, or freeze” response and your feedback won’t accomplish anything.

Trust acts as the grease for the gears of feedback. When trust is present, feedback can be given frequently, received generously, and produce powerful change. When trust is absent, the gears of feedback produce friction, give off sparks, and eventually grind to a halt. The lack of effective feedback flowing across the organization leads to siloed thinking and behavior. Individuals and teams get stuck in patterns of dysfunctional and unproductive behaviors that effectively act as a brake that slows down or prevents the organization’s success.

So, if trust is the foundation for feedback, we must make intentional effort to build it. Trust doesn’t happen by accident; it’s a direct result of the behaviors we use, or don’t use. Chandler and Grealish offer four ways you can build trust in a way that fosters healthy feedback.

1. Be Human. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our power, position, and influence. When we do that, we tend to stop viewing others as individuals with hopes, dreams, and feelings. We start to treat people as things instead of human beings. The authors offer the following examples of ways to demonstrate your humanity:

  • Admit mistakes
  • Be authentic; let your values show
  • Get personal; share your thoughts and feelings
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously

2. Do What You Say You’ll Do. One of the four key elements of trust is dependability. Right, wrong, or indifferent, if you aren’t consistently reliable, people will be hesitant or downright resistant to trust you. Examples include:

  • Keep your promises
  • Don’t over-commit
  • Be consistent and reliable
  • Don’t lie, conceal, or exaggerate

3. Be Kind. Trust flourishes in an environment of safety. If you are unpredictable, uncaring, or uninterested in others, they will be fearful and skeptical of your intent. Ways to demonstrate kindness include:

  • Encourage others
  • Speak kindly; eliminate criticism, defensiveness, blame
  • Be available and present for others
  • Value the needs of others as much as your own

4. Connect. Personal connection enhances trust, and good connection requires an investment in time and effort. This means we:

  • Spend time with others and are fully present when doing so
  • Seek win-win outcomes
  • Relinquish control and allow for collaboration
  • Honor others’ viewpoints and listen without judgment

Giving and receiving feedback doesn’t need to be a dreaded experience. It can, and should be, a normal and healthy free-flowing exchange between people. Trust is the foundation of feedback, and unless that foundation is rock-solid, feedback will continue to be a dirty word in organizations.

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