26 MAY 2017
written by Mike
We are afraid to give constructive feedback, and we are afraid to receive it. “Afraid” may be a wrong word. We just don’t like it.
The thought of being average, making mistakes at work, gives me chills. So when someone dares to criticise and correct me, I go into a defence mode. Well, I used to. Now, as you can see, I’m chilled.
Why is feedback important?
“I don’t need an assessment. I know my skills.” “What does he/she knows? I’m the one doing the work!”
Does that sound familiar?
It does to me. I used to be like that before I learned the value of a helpful comment. The first benefit is obvious. A strong feedback will speed up your learning curve.
Why would you want to spend hours figuring something out if you can just ask for help?
I remember when I first started on a big job as a trainee. I was quite anxious; that was my big break! The last thing I wanted was to mess it up. So when I didn’t know how to do something, I would spend time on the internet browsing for answers.
“Couldn’t you just ask someone?”
Yes, I could. I just didn’t want anyone to know that I don’t know stuff.
“So clever!” I thought to myself when I found an answer after twenty minutes of searching. And asking my colleagues for help would take twenty seconds. Once you learn the value of asking for feedback, your learning will shoot up. You will understand that it is the best way to progress. And the quickest.
You will make mistakes. It is not an assumption but a fact. Now, the question is, would you want to know about them?
We tend to live and work in environments where perfection is everything. And the truth is we are not perfect, far from it. When someone tells you about your blunder, you should thank them. I’m not even joking.
New people and criticism.
Let’s have a look at learning curve again. This time from a perspective of a new staff member. We all know that when we start learning something new, we gain skills exponentially, then comes dreaded plateau.
You need someone to help you. Someone who will boost your skills. No, you won’t progress like you did in this first couple of weeks but you will keep moving forward. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
In the beginning, you will make a lot of mistakes. Constructive feedback will help you to adjust, correct and learn from them.
What if you are on the other side? What if you need to train new people?
Fortunately, I have some experience in that, both good and bad. When you have someone under your wings, a definition of feedback can quickly change. We tend to judge others from our perspective. We expect from others the same output as we do from ourselves.
Couple years ago I had a responsibility of training a new member of staff. The new guy was a bit older but had a lot of previous experience. In the beginning, he struggled to catch up with my workflow. He kept making the same mistakes; he was slower than the rest of us.
Until one day I understood. It is not him; it’s me. From someone that has just started, I expected the same output as from myself. And it wasn’t helping anyone. We talked a lot; I changed the way I spoke to him. He told me that he was so stressed about making a mistake; he couldn’t focus on other stuff. And my authoritarian rule did not help. See, I thought I was giving him constructive feedback; he saw it as a constant criticism.
In the end, communication is the key.
Difference between feedback and nasty comments.
Ok, so we talked about why constructive feedback is necessary. Let’s have a look at the differences between feedback and criticism.
When you receive feedback from your family, friends or colleagues, they mean to help you. That is the first thing you need to understand. And the hardest. Definition of constructive feedback is simple – it’s a good will. It is there so you can grow. So you can understand your mistakes and learn from them.
So it is all good and nice. That’s how the world works, right?
Well, unfortunately not.
Sometimes it feels like we are giving constructive feedback, but in reality, we just want to criticise others. It makes us look good. What are the main characteristics of nasty comments?
They will make you feel stupid. Like you don’t know what you are doing. Like you don’t deserve the job. They will make you feel small.
They will embarrass you. You know a thing about nasty comments? People will make them in a group. When you are defenceless. When you are weak. They are not helpful. Nasty comments are not like constructive feedback. They won’t help you grow. They won’t help you learn. They are there just to make you feel sorry.
The minute you understand the difference, you can prepare.
How to deal with feedback and nasty comments.
So now you know what others mean when they talk about your work. It is time to return the ball. How others perceive you depends on how you deal with feedback.
What can you do to look the best you can?
Well, the first thing you should thank the person. Someone just took time out of their day to look at your work, and they want to make it better. You may not agree with them, but it doesn’t matter. You should be gracious for the act.
Next, you should take notes.
You see, it is easy to take offence. It is harder to admit imperfection. And the last point, you should learn from the feedback. Even if you don’t agree with it, maybe there is something you overlooked. Maybe if you go with the changes, your work will end up much better.
Now, there is a different way to deal with nasty comments. Sometimes you want to take the higher road. Sometimes you don’t. First and most important – ignore them.
Don’t bother. Think about it in this way. Someone just took the time out of his or her life to look at your work, to think of the way to criticise you and to make a comment. Who is the bigger loser there?
You haven’t wasted your time; it is the other person. So don’t give them a satisfaction of your attention.
The second way is more direct. If the comments don’t stop, say you don’t appreciate them. Say you don’t like the tone and if there is something wrong with your work you can schedule an official meeting to talk about it. Don’t get cornered at your desk. And have a witness if you can too. A colleague, maybe another line manager.
And the last point. If someone harassed you, speak up. Take it to a higher management, take it to Human Resources. If it’s not possible, contact a professional advisor. And leave. You probably won’t change the environment and life is too short to spend it in toxic places.
How to give feedback
People have different ideas, different approach. Acknowledge that. First of all, when you talk to someone about they work what do they say?
“I’m so sorry.”
Well, tell the person that they don’t need to apologise. Everyone makes mistakes. Failure is a part of life, a part of learning. There is no reason to worry about it.
Also, don’t pick on little mistakes. Yes, you can mention them when you talk about something bigger. But there is no need for a meeting every time you spot something. It makes you look like you are watching every step of everyone around you.
Make sure they know about it, though. If people don’t know that they are making mistakes, they will keep doing them. Sit down with them and go through their work. Take your time, explain why it matters. Don’t just call someone and expect him or her to change right away.
Invest a little time. It will be appreciated.
A proper feedback platform should exist. Where staff and managers are not afraid to speak up, to talk about each other’s work. And not behind people backs. There are interesting examples of openness in a workplace. Ray Dalio and his investment firm Bridgewater Associates are an example of that. They record every meeting, and everyone is welcomed to watch the tapes. Every time someone mentions your name, you get a notification, and you can look at the video of it.
Maybe, but his firm is one of the most successful in the world. I’m not saying that we should be filming our every step. I’m saying that we shouldn’t take so many things so personally.
So next time, don’t attack the feedbacker, welcome him/her with open arms instead.
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