Removing the Negative Connotation from Feedback to Drive Value

“Not giving any feedback is easier than giving it. Anyone who goes out of their way to give you feedback should be appreciated for it.” – Anonymous

In the last couple of weeks I have been taking courses in my professional development and one of the topics of interest has been feedback. As a norm we are accustomed to associate feedback with negative performance or mistakes made. Often times when we hear that there’s a feedback session especially from a senior in our organizations we already start reflecting on the mistakes we may have made in the course of work. At best we come up with excuses or justifications for why we did it that way. This is may be good when it helps one identify areas of improvement but then it also wires individuals to have their guards up which hinders learning & development. As a convention, feedback is however meant to help us learn, improve and avoid repeating the same mistakes.

The principle guide in the course material was: “Make plenty of opportunities for people to give you honest feedback so they’ll feel increasingly comfortable and safe.” Though good, from standard experience I kept wondering whether we should make as many mistakes as possible being this is the convention of when we get feedback. Definitely not. It’s on this account that I believe the best way for us to make people be willing to create opportunities for feedback is by acknowledging that feedback doesn’t have to be negative. It comes by appreciating or giving positive feedback when we have an opportunity to and most importantly mentioning that you’d want to share feedback with an associate. By calling one for a feedback session, they’ll definitely as a norm be prepared to defend themselves. When you burst that bubble by focusing on the positive, you set a new norm and help them embrace feedback as an opportunity to reflect on the good and the bad. When there is negative feedback, the focus should not be on the person but rather the issue at hand. In the course we are urged to model the COIN Approach to feedback i.e.,

  • C – Connection: Establish connection with the person so that they are able to understand your perspective while being open to their perspective. From a common understanding, it is easy to discuss the specifics of concern.
  • O – Observation: Focus your discussion to be on the substance or issue at hand rather than the individual. Outline your observation that is the basis for the feedback session so that they are able to work through it with you. e.g., “I noticed that you promised to send in the report by XX day but it hasn’t come my way. Could you help me understand why this is the case?” In so doing one is able to outline the reasons for the delay and most importantly, you have room to give guidance i.e., in case they didn’t have certain information critical for the report they have ways of asking for it to ensure such delays are avoided. Also they can communicate in advance for such making it a learning moment from an observable conduct.
  • I – Impact: Sharing impact of the observed behavior or conduct is critical in helping them understand the implication of their action or lack thereof. This bigger perspective helps them understand the cost of their behavior beyond their own action but to the entire company hence fostering a sense of accountability. This is critical in ensuring there is joint ownership and commitment to improvement.
  • N – Next Steps: Feedback should be focused on establishing a way forward to ensure there is a learning in it. Next Steps can entail corrective or preventive actions by the individual.

In a recent discussion I was reminded of the fact that we often consider negative feedback an attack on our personality and would end up disliking the person who gave us this information. However, we should be more receptive and grateful to these people for it is easier not to give any feedback especially negative feedback. Negative feedback giving is considered a difficult conversation which as a standard nobody likes. So finding someone willing to and offering to bring up an uncomfortable discussion for you to learn and improve is a blessing.

Most importantly, we need to change the negative vibe associated with feedback. Let’s model a different social perspective informed by our behaviors and conduct. By focusing on the positives in feedback giving and receiving we can make it easier to receive and give feedback. Ultimately, it is us who thrive and succeed when we embrace this.

2 thoughts on “Removing the Negative Connotation from Feedback to Drive Value”

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