Feedback with Context

All of us must receive feedback to grow. There’s no other way. Sometimes the feedback is organic:  a consequence for our actions, a bad outcome from a hasty decision or a positive outcome from our hard work, unintentionally hurting someone’s feelings because of a poor communication. Through these experiences, we learn.

But other times, feedback comes to us directly from others. It’s especially helpful if that person has our best interests in mind and delivers the feedback responsibly, kindly, and thoughtfully. Most of the time, we can take even hard feedback well from those we trust and admire.

If you’re in a position of leadership, mastering feedback is a non-negotiable because it’s the only way to effectively grow your people beyond what they can do by themselves. But even if you are not in a management-level job, to work well with others you will definitely find that the ability to deliver feedback which is well received is a very useful tool.

A lot of us resist giving feedback because we fear hurting other people’s feelings, making them cry, or having to endure retribution or sullenness. So how do you do it without causing others to become, at best, defensive and put-off, and at worst, downright angry or devastated? The missing link is context.

If we wrap our feedback carefully in the context of the other person’s goals, passions, and struggles, it is typically received much better than if carefully wrapped in ours. People are more likely to make changes if they are convinced that the result will benefit them and get them more of what they want and less of what they don’t want. We can take advantage of this when giving feedback.  People are less likely to consider changing when they believe it only benefits someone or something else.

There’s a lot more to developing the art of giving good feedback than just context, but it’s a really good place to start. It’s important to remember that, in the long run, withholding feedback is always more damaging than giving it, if you do it well. We will never correct what we are unwilling to confront. The purpose of feedback is to enable others to see their blind spots in order to help them achieve their objectives and ours. We are attempting to help them get better, and by positioning it within the correct context, we up our chances that they will receive it through a positive, albeit slightly selfish, lens.

And always, always, be kind. Shift into neutral, lower your judgment, and separate the behavior from the person. Give feedback about behavior while simultaneously uplifting the individual.

And on a side note, whenever you receive feedback, remember that it isn’t easy to do it well and be sure to acknowledge someone who is brave enough and kind enough to care about how it is delivered, even if its not perfect. Someday it will be your turn.

“Feedback often tells you more about the person giving it than about you.”

~ Stephen R. Covey

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