Like champagne, feedback is better shared 🥂
To give and receive feedback should be something to look forward to: you either get to know your strong points and your weaknesses from an objective perspective or you are the person that can help someone grow their career by providing them with some well-constructed criticism.
Unfortunately, these are usually not the thoughts that come to mind in those moments that lead up to an evaluation, in which you bite your nails off and wish you were lying on the beach with a Sangria in your hand (this goes for both parties involved).
Whether these thoughts have to do with ego (Anything you tell me I see as criticism and I will not even listen because my way is the best. Period.) or not wanting to step on someone’s toes (He/she is working hard and is having some family issues, who am I to make their lives even worse), feedback should be celebrated instead of dreaded.
But how do you turn feedback into a celebration? At this point, I can hear you think ‘For god’s sake woman, cut to the chase’, so I will:
Absolutely nobody likes to come into a meeting that is not well prepared. Schedule some time before the meeting to go through your notes you've collected in the period after the last evaluation. I have a dedicated note in my Evernote in which I keep track of what went well and what didn’t. Every time something comes to mind I jot it down so I won’t forget. The time before the evaluation I go through these notes and assess what needs to be addressed.
Pick your battles
Curate your feedback. People can only work on so much. Select the most important topics during your preparation and see how you can work together on improving. If you choose strategically, most of the time all the other points you wanted to discuss are resolved by the time you have your next feedback moment.
Do you know what else people don’t like besides a lack of preparation? Getting criticized publicly. It’s ok if your first reaction is ‘DOH’. But take notice. It happens more than you think. When people state their positive opinions about someone else publicly, no harm done, it can even brighten the mood. But when it’s something less than positive it can have a horrible effect on a person, the company culture, the relationship and about a gazillion other factors.
Got something on your mind? Book a room.
Outstanding feedback is only outstanding when you follow up and make it consistent. Schedule a moment for feedback at least once every half a year. If someone needs more guidance, by all means, give them your most valued asset: your time. This will not only enforce the relationship, but it will also boost confidence and therefore stimulate productivity. Book frequent time-slots and wait for the magic to happen.
Make it fun
That moment of feedback is similar to a dentist visit. Even though you never had any problems, you are still a bit nervous something will come up. That’s why making these moments fun can be super productive. Go for ice cream, take a stroll through the park, walk a dog, book a fun meeting room. A change of scenery is always a good idea especially in combination with some fresh air to give those poor office-brains a well deserved O2 shot.
A working relationship doesn't differ that much from a romantic relationship. Where there is understanding, people feel more comfortable to speak and are more likely to open up. Make sure you are not secretly preparing your answer in your head while the other person is talking (something we often do without even noticing). Focus and listen when they speak. This way the conversation will balance out on the same level, leaving both parties confident enough to speak their mind.
This point ties together with the previous one. You are both in this conversation to learn. Any form of criticism, patronising or pointing out errors will backfire at this point. I am not saying you should sing kumbaya in front of a fireplace (I would be immensely impressed though), but just make sure you are speaking from an intension to learn.
Nothing worse then unclarity. If you want to say something just say it. Don’t be afraid you will step on someone’s toes and have to worry someone will poison your turkey sandwich at lunchtime. You are in this together. You both want to learn and grow. You can only do this by explicitly saying what you mean. Sometimes it may seem we are hurting someone when we are too upfront, but it will hurt more if you tiptoe around that big fat elephant in the room.
Sometimes there are some feedback conversations where you can’t seem to find a silver lining. In that case, try harder. Everybody has something worth mentioning, even though it’s small. Start with something positive and end on a positive note. If you come across as you have no positive outlook on the next couple of weeks/months whatsoever, fat chance the other party will get discouraged. When people get discouraged they are more likely to search for another job, speak badly about the company/your services, and the most important thing: they will feel flat-out bad. If you can help this with even the tiniest compliment you can avoid all of that.
There’s always room for improvement
Even though I liked that idea of singing kumbaya in front of a fireplace, we need to wisely use this time for growth. A common misunderstanding is people like to be told they are doing everything perfectly. Flowers grow when they sing, everything they touch turns into gold and rainbows appear whenever they are near. Wouldn't that be too easy? People prefer to hear in what area and how they can improve. The urge to do better each time is human nature, it’s survival at it’s lowest but extremely important. So even though burps glitter, think of something they can improve (are those rainbows big and bright enough?).
Last but not least, since this is the most important one of the bunch: be genuine. I don’t give a rats ass if you are Meryl Streep and have more Oscar awards on your shelf then I have teeth in my mouth. If you don’t genuinely care for people, it will show. And when people start to notice you actually don’t care all that much about their well being, you can pack your bags. Be real, people will appreciate it. A lot.
With the above tips in mind, I bet I’ve turned that feedback-frown upside down. Remember, both parties are coming together to help each other to learn and grow. Isn’t that exactly what we long for in life? And you get to do that every three to six months! #blessed 🥂
The things that make you forget what time it is are the things you should treasure. To me, that has always been a combination of writing and drawing.
I am specialised in employer branding campaigns, lifestyle, personal development, converting technical pieces into bitesize easy-to-read commercial content and I love a good old copy challenge. I thrive when my words propel your business to the next level, either in Dutch or English.
Besides writing for companies, I enjoy writing and illustrating for passion projects like opinion pieces for magazines, book reviews and (short) stories.
Need to step up your copy and/or illustration game? I’m your gal!