I was invited out to lunch the other day by a friend who wanted to talk to me about his career. After ordering my usual luncheon salad I listened intensely to his description of concerns about his business.
After about 20 minutes he seemed to have finished up and just as I was ready to give him some feedback, I stopped myself and asked him…”now exactly what is it that I can do to be helpful to you?”
Of course, as a psychologist people are always asking me for advice or ideas about their work or professional matters and for many years I freely gave them my opinion, whether they wanted it or not.
Recently however, I’ve become much more selective in how I give feedback. I don’t assume that everyone wants my opinion and I am especially careful about keeping my mouth shut unless I am asked.
Feedback is a delicate process. While our intent is to be helpful, the result is often that our opinion comes across as biting or negative and is not always given in a way that benefits the receiver. Part of that may be our approach to giving feedback but the other side of the equation relates to whether the person is open and ready to receive it.
Here are some ideas on giving and getting feedback
- Ask the person whether they want any feedback for an activity they have completed.
- Check with them about where and when you give feedback—some people want it 1-1, while others might prefer email. Someone else might like the feedback immediately while someone else might prefer it a few days later.
- Be respectful and specific in how you provide information. Avoid inflammatory words or opinions and stick to facts. For example, do say “ I like how you walked around the room during your presentation and didn’t stand behind the podium” vs. “You looked totally confused when you stepped out from the podium.”
- Don’t sugarcoat your feedback but find some positives to acknowledge.
- Give them some time to process your information. Some people are immediate learners while others are more reflective. If they want to talk about your feedback right away, go ahead and listen. No need to defend your comments, you can just hear them out
- Keep your exchange private.
- If you want some feedback, be clear on what you want. If you want someone to review a report you wrote, do you want feedback on your grammar or whether the report makes sense?
- Think of it as a gift that a friend is giving you.
- Manage your non-verbal communication. Pay attention to whether you are getting defensive and if so, go ahead and ask the person to slow down or to explain their observations in more detail.
- Accept all feedback, even if you think it is wrong. You’ll always have time later to clarify and correct any misunderstandings.
- Thank your friend or colleague for sharing their ideas with you.
My friend sent me a note this morning thanking me for our conversation. He has started following up on some of the suggestions I made and I could read in his email a new sense of excitement about his work. Feedback can be a great way to help others. Just make sure you are giving and getting in a healthy way.