Many people dread the idea of receiving (or giving) feedback.
Hearing someone else’s opinion of how well you’re doing, or otherwise, having to listen to what you did well, and what you could be doing better. Smiling through comment and criticism, swallowing your pride and your ego while someone gives you their thoughts on your performance.
For most people it is something to be avoided, something that you only want to put yourself through once, or maybe twice a year.
But how can you possibly know where you’re doing well, or where you need to do better, without feedback?
How can you hope to achieve your goals, to improve in your areas of weakness or to recognise your areas of strength, without the opinions of others?
Toastmasters is a public speaking club, it is somewhere that people can go to learn, practice and improve at the art of speaking in public; both in delivering prepared speeches and in impromptu speaking.
It is an experience built on experiential learning through feedback.
In a Toastmasters meeting, everything is evaluated in the moment by other members of the group who have the role of Evaluator for that meeting. Even the evaluators are evaluated, but it doesn’t feel like a trial, it doesn’t feel like something to dread, it feels like something to welcome, why?
Firstly, everyone in the room at Toastmasters has gone there to learn, they have come in to the room to learn to be a better speaker. So, they all recognise that without the evaluation, they’re not going to improve.
There is also a recognition that it doesn’t matter who is evaluating you, whether they are the more experienced speaker or you are; when you’re speaking to a room you have to reach everyone, so everyone’s opinion is valid.
Finally, the feedback is from your peers, you are all “Toastmasters”. Although some might have been with the club for longer than others, some might have won contests or competitions, some may have completed educational awards or spoken at conferences or even TEDx events; right there, in the room, you are all part of the club, and you are all there to learn and improve.
When we come together at Toastmasters, we recognise that the evaluations are key to our development, and so we welcome them.
Evaluator isn’t always an assigned role
There is a saying that feedback is a gift, I always thought it was pretty trite.
However, someone recently pointed out to me that no-one has to give you feedback, if someone does let you know what they think, good or bad, then it is something that they have chosen to do.
They have taken the time out to come to you and give you feedback, they could have just avoided it, they could have just gone about their day. Instead, they have stopped, thought about your performance, and taken the time to put together their thoughts on the subject which they are now sharing with you.
If someone has decided to do that, then you should at least hear them out. However, that doesn’t mean that you should act on every piece of feedback that you hear; it doesn’t mean that you should put yourself endlessly at the mercy of other people’s thoughts and opinions.
So, what should you do?
- Say Thank You — Every time someone offers you feedback, whether you asked for it or not, whether you agree with it or not, the first words out of your mouth should be “Thank you.”, universally.
You don’t need to respond beyond that in the moment; if you’re unsure what to say, if you’re upset or angry, if you’re taken aback by how nice it is; thank you covers all the bases.
You could go further to “Thanks, that’s good feedback, I’ll think about that.”, but only once you’ve perfected saying thank you.
- Look for the nugget — Remember that feedback is someone’s observations of your behaviours, it is the observer’s subjective truth.
That doesn’t make it accurate, it might not make it fair, it doesn’t make it supported by data, but there will always be a nugget of absolute truth in there somewhere, and it’s up to you to find it.
You have to put everything else to one side, check your ego, reflect on what is being said, and go looking for the nugget, it is always in there. Don’t try to do this in the moment, look at point one, say thank you, go away, and reflect. Don’t react, respond.
- Remember that you don’t have to act on everything — Once you have found the nugget, then you need to figure out what to do about it. This might look like putting an action plan in place, or speaking to a coach or a mentor, but equally it might look like not doing anything.
Look at the feedback in the bigger picture; is this something you’ve heard once, or have you heard it numerous times? Is this something that you’re already aware of and are OK with? Are there other more pressing development items that you want to focus on now?
You have a choice; you can choose to respond, or you can choose not to; but remember the proverb: “If one person calls you an ass, ignore them. If five people call you an ass, buy a saddle”.
What about giving feedback?
Just as there are rules for receiving feedback, there are some rules around doling it out:
- Don’t do the sandwich — You know the one, don’t do it.
People can see it coming a mile off, and they just disengage, you can be direct without being unkind, you don’t need to couch every negative in two positives. Stop it.
- Be generous — Giving “good” feedback in the moment means that you can give “bad” feedback in the moment too.
You want people to get used to hearing your thoughts, and not to dread them when they come. If you congratulate people on a good job when they do one, then they won’t be surprised when you point out some things that they could have done better.
This requires practice though, and it will probably catch some people off guard if they’re not used to hearing it from you, but persist.
- Remember that this is your subjective truth — Scroll up a bit and remember, people don’t have to listen to you. You can prefix your feedback by acknowledging that this is how you see it, and accepting that it might not be fact.
It’s important to remember this if you get push back as well, if someone prefers not to hear what you have to say, or wants to argue the point, then it’s just how you saw it. There is no need to get emotionally attached to your opinion.
Practice, practice, practice.
Feedback is crucial, listening to it is central to your development, being able to give feedback is a core leadership skill.
If you get a reputation for flipping out or shutting down, then people will stop giving you feedback, and you’ll be stuck. Who will leaders want to promote; the person capable of listening and growing, or the person terrified of it, or worse, upset by it?
Giving feedback comes with practice, you need to get comfortable expressing your truth, confident in how you express it and set the expectation that people will get the good and the bad. You can’t just give the bad, you’ll be seen as endlessly criticising people, not a good look for a leader.
Seek opportunities to give and receive feedback, start by telling people that they’ve done a good job (that’s easy), and by asking close colleagues and peers what they think of a specific element of your performance, or consider joining a group like Toastmasters.
Once you get going, it gets easier, so start telling people what you think, and asking them what they think.