Feedback is a gift – You must be kidding!

According to my good friend dictionary.com, a “gift” is:

“Something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favour toward someone, honour an occasion, or make a gesture of assistance; present.”

Some synonyms for the word “gift” are: donation, contribution, offering, benefaction, endowment, bounty, boon, largess, alms, gratuity, tip, premium, allowance, subsidy, bequest, legacy, inheritance, dowry. Something to be thankful for.

I can hear the incredulity in your voice: “You are trying to tell me that feedback (which I really don’t like – giving or receiving!), is a show of favour to someone? A legacy? Something to be thankful for? Wow, that’s rich!”

If you are anything like me, or most mere mortals, even the word feedback makes you cringe and conjures images of awkward, conflict-creating discussions that leave everyone feeling sick and deflated. The far more appealing option is to bury one’s head in the sand and hope it will all go away!!

So why on earth should we even contemplate such a heart palpitating activity!?

Part of every manager’s job is to develop their people and this involves providing constructive feedback, be it for positive reinforcement or for correction and improvement.  When given well, feedback can provide insights and opportunities for development and growth. If personal growth and betterment is part of your value set, then learning to give and receive feedback is an important skill to master. “Feedback is the breakfast of champions” cites popular leadership author, Ken Blanchard.

So why a gift? When you think about buying a special gift for someone, it can be a touch daunting! What would they like? What can I afford? Will they use it? When will I find the time to shop? There is actually an emotional, time and financial investment on the part of a gift giver to provide something that would be of value to the receiver – a gift that they would be “thankful for”.

In short, it is an effort on the behalf of the giver in the hope that the receiver would benefit and be grateful.

I’ve seen many a situation where a colleague was saved from a negative fate (including a sacking) because of the courage of a manager to provide helpful and constructive feedback. I’ve also seen managers shy away from it leading to unfortunate outcomes too. We all deserve a helpful gift now and again don’t we?

So, a few tips for all the nail biting, avoidance-prone people out there reticent to provide a “gift” to a colleague or team mate:

Motivation – understand your motive in wanting to provide feedback to someone. Does the motive stem for a desire to contribute positively to their development or a desire to punish and to tear down? Going in with a caring attitude and a belief in a person’s potential for growth and improvement is the first step to giving constructive feedback.

Outcome – what would you hope the outcome for your colleague to be as a result of sharing the feedback? Is it a shift in attitude? An encouragement to step up? Handle emotions more productively? Be clear on how you would hope your colleague could use the “gifts” that you are about to bestow upon them.

Timing – Using a big loud voice in the middle of an open-plan office might not have the desired result you are looking for! Find a private space and set up a time that respects both of your needs, perhaps a coffee at a local café.

(Note: Annual performance reviews are NOT the time to raise new feedback for a staff member – there should be no surprises at these formal, company-required meetings)

Observations and Implications – It’s so important to state the specific behaviours you’ve observed (using “I” statements will difuse any perceived sense of injustice or aggression. Eg. I’ve noticed…. I’ve observed…I see this in you….), and the implications of this behaviour. This is something we often can’t see for ourselves, but can be really helpful to us when someone can courageously point out the implications for us.

Dialogue – provide the opportunity for discussion once you’ve stated the behaviours and implications. Ask for their perspectives on the observations you’ve made.

Alternative Behaviours and Implications – brainstorm how they might handle a similar situation differently and what the implications of that behaviour might be. Paint a positive picture of this person’s future.

Next Steps – agree next steps and a time to check in and follow up.

So next time you are avoiding giving someone some constructive feedback, treat it like you are giving a gift to them. Start from a perspective of “how could this be something of assistance to them” and then plan, deliver and review how you went. Hey, you might like to ask the receiver for a gift: “How was I at giving you constructive feedback?”

Good luck!

Feel free to send me your observations and “gifts” on these musings!

For more assistance check out our training course Feedback is a Gift © found under Product Offerings