Have a Better Life at Work by Creating Conditions for Effective Feedback

A few years ago, I was asked to facilitate 360 feedback sessions with a group of managers. Rather than holding these sessions privately, my job was to review the individual 360 reports with each person in front of the group. We were doing this to support a culture of accountability and learning, where feedback was a group activity instead of a private, secret matter. By having colleagues present, the individual receiving the feedback could ask for clarification or examples to support the ratings he or she had received.

Knowing there was a potential for people to become overwhelmed and shut down, we started by developing a set of norms that would provide structure for the conversation. The group agreed to the following roles:

For the person “in the spotlight” getting the feedback:

  • Be in the lead, asking for input about the parts of your leadership that you are ready to learn about.
  • Stay curious about what others have to say.
  • Stay open as long as you can to new information.
  • Notice when you are starting to shut down or feel defensive, and say when you’ve had enough input for now.

For feedback “givers”:

  • Give feedback that is observational and behavioral (what did you see or hear the person do?)
  • Answer the questions the receiver asks. Stick to what they are curious about.
  • Know that sometimes you will have more to say than the person is ready to hear, and that this may be frustrating for you.
  • Contain the frustration and honor the readiness of the person receiving the feedback.

Much attention has been paid to delivering feedback effectively. However, that’s only half the story. For feedback to be effective, the person receiving it needs to be open to it and ready to take it in.

Can you think of ways to use these ideas the next time you’re giving or receiving feedback, toward the goal of creating an authentically open exchange to support development?

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