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Asking for Feedback Raises Expectations

February 21, 2012

In the mind of the giver, your request for feedback signals a desire to learn about the impact of your actions and make improvements.  While it is absolutely true that you always have the right to act on the feedback you receive or ignore it completely, you also have to be aware that those who muster up the courage and energy to give you honest feedback, particularly developmental FeedForward, hold an expectation that you will use the information and make changes.

This point really came to life for me recently.  I was collecting feedforward – constructive suggestions for improvement – for a senior executive of a major corporation.  I spoke with a number of people – his boss, peers and direct reports.  A number of them had provided him with feedback previously, and they were less than enthusiastic about giving him feedback again.  Why?  Because, in their words, “He hasn’t changed.  He didn’t listen the last time, so I’m not sure this time will be different.”  Point made and understood!

That point prompted me to offer the following coaching, for your consideration:

For the giver:  When you give feedback, give it and let it go.  Give in the true sense – give without expectation.  Give the gift of your perspective, with honesty and compassion AND respect the recipient’s right to do with the feedback whatever she chooses.  If she makes changes you recognize wonderful.  Acknowledge what you see and congratulate her.  If she does nothing as a result of your input, let that be fine too.  Respect the person’s right to do as she chooses, including living with the positive or negative consequence of her decision.

For the recipient:  When you ask for and receive feedback, especially developmental feedback, know that your request is sending a signal others are likely to read as, “I want to make some changes and improvements.  Help me see where I should focus my efforts for greatest effect.”  Having others do work on your behalf – give you feedback – and then for you to do nothing with it will not likely predispose the giver to trust future requests or to give again.

Always choose one or two items to implement.  Then, tell a few people around you, those who can easily witness you engaging in the new behavior, “I received some feedback that suggested I allow people to finish their sentences before I speak.  Beginning today, I’m going to work on that.  Would you be willing to help me by pointing out when you notice me allowing, or not allowing, others to finish their statements?   In the moment, you can clear your throat, cough, or simply say something like, “Lucy, I don’t think John finished his statement.”

Look for and acknowledge small changes in yourself and others:  Sometimes, you, and others, change.  The effort is real and sincere.  The change may be small and almost imperceptible, even though it feels BIG inside the one rendering the effort.  No one verbally acknowledges the change.  Feeling frustrated, reversion to old behavior occurs easily.  What can you do?  Verbally acknowledge baby steps, leaps and everything in between.

When a person does something well consistently, or simply better than they have in the past, let them know it.  Compliment them on the spot, grab them after the meeting, call, email, text; just be sure to tell them.  Hearing, “I noticed how well you handled the group’s questions today.  You restated each question and tested to be sure you understood the intention behind it; made eye contact with everyone, including the person who asked the question, as you responded; and your tone of voice and word choices were respectful.”  Your acknowledgment – to yourself and others – fuels continuous improvement.

Whether based on feedback or self-reflection, when you try to make a change, it sometimes takes a while before you feel comfortable with the new behavior and before others notice the change, or trust that it is real and not just an aberration.  That’s why change takes commitment and is not for the faint of heart.

Definitely, ask for appreciative feedback and developmental feedforward, but only when you intend to apply its lessons and make changes that help you be even more effective.

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