Giving and Receiving Feedback in the Workplace
By: David Marcotte,
Marcotte Coaching/Success Services for Acumatica
Do you know that feeling of absolute, effortless focus; the type of focus where a good deal of time passes in what feels like a blink of the eye? Perhaps you experienced this feeling while doing an activity like reading an amazing page-turner of a book, being wrapped up in stimulating conversation, or while playing a video game. Another word for this feeling is engagement; you were, in these examples, highly engaged. Have you ever felt highly engaged while working your day job? I hope so. Do you wish it could happen more frequently? You likely answered, “Oh, absolutely!” because you intrinsically know that when you are highly engaged, you are more joyfully productive and fulfilled, which improves job satisfaction and reduces turnover. Well, according to a 2015 Gallup poll (as shown below), it turns out that the professionals, people like you, who experience frequent and sustained levels of engagement while working are the folks who also receive the most feedback. My hope for you is that by the end of this article, you have a newfound desire to give, and especially, receive feedback.
|Proportion of Highly Engaged Employees Experiencing This||What Makes an Employee Highly Engaged? 2015 Gallup Poll||Proportion of Low or No Engagement Employees Experiencing This|
|92%||Someone Has Talked About Their Progress||13%|
|97%||Someone Encourages Their Development||10%|
|88%||They Have Been Praised Recently||13%|
|98%||They Have Opportunities To Learn and Grow||13%|
|74%||They Have a Best Friend at Work||19%|
|98%||Their Manager Cares About Them||20%|
|98%||They View Their Job As Important to Their Company||22%|
|91%||Their Opinions Count at Work||19%|
|93%||Their Colleagues Are Committed to Quality Work||44%|
|99%||They Are Able to Do Their Best Every Day||53%|
|98%||They Have Equipment Needed to Do Their Job||70%|
|99%||They Know What Is Expected Of Them At Work||89%|
Note: Items displayed in bold text in the table above are directly linked to giving and receiving feedback.
What’s in a Name?
As a musician, when members of my band use the term feedback, it is probably because someone accidentally aimed a microphone at a speaker, causing that horrible, high-pitched shrill squeal sound we have all heard. Experiencing this unpleasant sound is analogous to how many people feel about receiving and giving feedback in a work environment. If the word feedback relates to something unpleasant, maybe we should call it something different?
However, come to think of it, William Shakespeare once wrote to significant effect, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet.” That is a terrific point, Bill! Nevertheless, a rose, despite its many thorns, is something most of us enjoy. The word feedback, however, may as well be a rose’s thorn for many of us. Therefore, if we freshen up the term “feedback,” perhaps we will be able to embrace the word in a new light, even if the meaning remains the same. So, what is another word for feedback? Here are a few that come to mind: appraisal, perspective, assessment, viewpoint, judgment, direction, and guidance. Oh, guidance? Yes, let us explore this word.
Imagine, if you will, I am your manager, and you are standing near our respective offices blindfolded. I then task you with the mission of placing an item in the garbage can. Note, I have put said garbage can somewhere in the vicinity for which you are not entirely sure. You are blindfolded, remember, and I have given you only the desired outcome without offering you any feedback, excuse me, guidance along the way. I can see the garbage can clearly, but I have chosen to leave you alone because that is what I hired you to do, right? Will you get the item in the garbage can? Eventually, you might achieve the goal. However, it will likely be an inefficient and unnecessarily clumsy process. Now, what if I were to give you the same task, but this time, I only offered you feedback when I saw you doing some wrong? Although your efficacy might improve slightly, your self-confidence will likely decline. Let us try again, this time, however, I will provide you with only praise during your blindfolded attempt to place the item in the garbage. Sure, you might feel better about yourself, but in the end, the process was still relatively inefficient. What is the process that will accomplish this goal optimally, while also providing a foundation for future success? In a word, guidance. Guidance is a blend of all three of these processes. For a leader, guidance is knowing when to offer critical feedback to help someone get back on track. Effective guidance is also knowing when to provide praise and encouragement to reinforce good instincts and promote motivation. Finally, guidance can foster empowerment by knowing when to stay out of the way. Guidance works.
In the above example, the responsibility for successful guidance seems to be on the shoulders of the leader. In truth, the receiver of the guidance has an equally vital role to play in this exchange. If the guidance is not welcome by the receiver, better yet desired, the opportunity for growth is likely hindered. Let us explore the relationship between the leader and the follower.
Leadership Vs. Followership
Leadership is a word frequently touted in business articles and conversations. Yet, how good can a leader be without a dynamic team of excellent followers? Followership, in a word, deserves more attention. And, as it turns out, the qualities which make great leaders and followers are practically the same.
Picture a basketball team if you will. There are players and coaches. There are times when the players find personal and professional growth based on the guidance of their coach. While on the court during a game, there are moments when these same players need to be leaders. A modern coach who has an aptitude for emotional intelligence knows they cannot effectively lead each team member in the same ways. Why? Humans are different from each other. We all learn at different rates and in different ways. The best coaches will take the time to learn, even directly ask, how each team member is best approached and with which style they prefer to be communicated. Too often, our leaders do not always take the time for this discovery or are entirely unaware of our struggles. Not to worry, followership to the rescue!
When I was a young, budding theater actor in Chicago, I marveled at the seasoned pros I was fortunate to work alongside. Unlike the prideful, know-it-all college actors with whom I had spent the previous four years, these big-time professional actors delighted in getting feedback from the director. The actors worked their tails off at home to come prepared to rehearsal with strong, smart choices made about their character and the scenes they were developing. Sometimes, however, the director would offer a different perspective. Much to my surprise, the actors seemed eager to receive feedback from the director. I was astonished by their ability to apply the direction calmly, rationally, and gladly, though all their hard work may have just gone out the window. What happens if the director’s feedback is wrong, you might ask? At the very least, the actors would happily apply the director’s notes even if they were reasonably confident the director was wrong, which indeed happens. In this case, the director feels heard and respected, and because the idea did not work, they move on to a new idea. Good actors know, despite their talent and success, they cannot easily see the bigger picture, for they are standing on the stage doing the work, whereas the director is out where the audience sits, viewing the entire stage.
In college, if at the end of rehearsal, an actor had not received notes from the director, everyone assumed that this actor was doing a great job. What blew my mind in the professional world was when an actor did not get much feedback from the director, the actor would track down the director to ask for feedback, or at least request a meeting. Brilliant!
I once asked an older, highly respected award-winning actor why he would go out of his way to get feedback, and he said, “Well, as good as I am, I can’t see what the audience sees, which is why we must hear-out our director. Sometimes, they are so worried about the bigger problems they see that they don’t always take the time to give me notes. Now, occasionally, the feedback results in only praise, but, if that is the case, it simply makes me feel good and assures me I’m on the right path.” None of us want others to know that we are not perfect. However, we are not perfect, and we can only get so good on our own. Just ask your favorite actor, athlete, or musician. If we push our comfort levels and seek out guidance, we can genuinely begin a paradigm shift towards personal and professional development. Having a desire for feedback, and even asking for it is a significant characteristic of followership.
Actors have directors, athletes have coaches, and musicians have conductors. Despite how incredibly talented these respective participants are, they each get better with the guidance of their leader, and the extraordinary players seek out guidance. Great leaders, in turn, get better by learning, even asking how best to communicate with each team member.
It’s a Two-Way Street
You might be asking yourself, “Is David suggesting that the person giving the guidance is always right?” My answer to that question is an emphatic, “No!” As you prepare for your next one-on-one meeting or annual review, however, try to receive guidance with desire and an open mind. Receive guidance with desire because, despite how difficult it is when reminded we are less than perfect, it is also a beautiful opportunity for personal and professional growth. Furthermore, these meetings are a chance to positively build the relationship with the person offering you the guidance. Do you have to agree with every item of feedback you receive? No. If you disagree, should you stand your ground by defending yourself and pleading your case on the spot? Probably not. Instead, take a deep breath, accept the feedback graciously, and ask for a follow-up meeting to give you time to process. This strategy also allows the guidance giver to feel heard. Use this reflection time to process the feedback, excuse me, guidance rationally. Put yourself in their shoes, understanding their perception of you or the situation in the manner for which they shared. They still might be wrong, but at least you gave their feedback consideration. In the follow-up meeting, it will be easier to lead the discussion with empathy, allowing for a productive conversation.
For you, I wish a fresh, positive attitude for guidance, for it can be a glorious experience when handled well. I expect this will improve your work relationships, productivity, job satisfaction, and your ability to be highly engaged. Feedback, guidance, or whatever you wish to call it, is a two-way street; both sides have a responsibility. To learn more about the process and techniques of giving and receiving feedback, please join me in November as I launch a two-hour Feedback webinar. Here we will explore methods for organizing thoughts, the power of body language and the voice, leadership and followership, active listening, the golden rule versus the platinum rule, managing up and out, and more. For more information about all course offerings, please visit The Complete Professional, by SSA on the Acumatica partner portal. Registration links to the current offerings may be found there.