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How to give and receive feedback effectively

Effective feedback can make the difference between success and failure. And yet so few of us know how to give and ask for effective communication feedback. This article gives feedback do's and don't's to help you give and ask for feedback that will help you succeed. 

Good feedback is in the ear of the receiver

My friend Clair says evaluations say more about the person giving them than the one receiving them. I know what she’s talking about, but I take a more nuanced perspective. I see people as being like mirrors that reflect who you are and how you show up in life. Some mirrors make you look fat when you aren’t and other mirrors blur your blemishes. But even a bad mirror gives valuable information about you.

The best mirrors provide accurate reflections of the person they represent and the best feedback does, too. However, good feedback also needs to consider how the person it reflects will take the information it provides. Good feedback is useless if it cannot be received and applied. Some feedback is a gift packed in poison. These do's and don’t's will help you to give and receive feedback in a useful way.

Giving feedback do's:

  1. Make "feedback deposits". Don't wait until there are problems. Also reflect things that go well. Say things like, "I want to let you know how much I value the way I can count on your handling the details for me every day."
  2. Be specific in your reflection of both positives and negatives. Say things like, "An example of what I am saying is…"
  3. Talk about what you want instead of what you don’t want. Say things like, "How can we avoid this happening again in the future?"
  4. Consider your words from the perspective of the listener and ask yourself if they are framed in ways you can apply.

Giving feedback don't's:

  1. Don’t wait until there is a problem to discuss issues. That’s like only having a mirror on bad hair days.
  2. Don’t generalize. That’s like having a soft-focus mirror.
  3. Don’t over-focus on problems. That’s like having a mirror that only shows your cellulite and overlooks your perfect teeth.
  4. Don’t be mean or hurtful. We may feel like our mirrors are out to get us - but they aren't. 

Receiving feedback do's

Receiving feedback effectively is as important as giving it well. 
  1. Consider the source and interpret the feedback accordingly. Tell yourself, "She is a very high achiever who thinks I’m lazy…" rather than "I am lazy."
  2. Thank the giver for their input, whether positive or negative. Say, "Thanks for pointing that out."
  3. Look for the gift in what they say. Ask yourself, "How can I benefit from this? How can I apply this?"
  4. Embrace your shadow / limits. Let yourself be an imperfect human. It gives you less to defend against, and makes it easier to hear what you need in order to grow.

Receiving feedback don't's

  1. Don't deflect their input. This is like thinking a mirror has nothing to offer you if it has a slight distortion.
  2. Don't hear what they say as absolute truth. This is like believing all mirrors offer perfect reflections.
  3. Don't personalize. A mirror with distortions will reflect similar distortions with everyone it reflects. It’s not about you.
  4. Don't over focus on what they say. It’s like rejecting a grand mirror because there’s a smudge somewhere.

Sincere feedback is a gift

While no one recommends looking in the mirror 24 hours a day, there is value in occasional reflections. Provide a feedback mirror for others, and review feedback mirrors provided by others. That is essential for success.

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