Toilet paper trailing from a shoe, food in the teeth, unzipped pants, or dangling projectiles from the nose. We all know the horror of these awkward situations, and maybe you took the risk to save your colleague from further embarrassment. And maybe you've been saved yourself, and with gratitude. So then why the hesitation to help a colleague be more effective at work? All it takes is some constructive feedback.
Is it radical to want to create a workplace culture where employees send and receive constructive feedback? Not at all. In fact, it's reasonable -- even commendable -- to want your organization and your team to reach next-level performance through continuous improvement and optimal output, all accomplished through constructive feedback.
Let's start with what/why/how of constructive feedback in the workplace:
What: Constructive feedback is the process of communicating observations and facts...
Why: ... with the twofold purpose of reinforcing positive behaviors and cultivating heightened awareness for areas ripe for improvement...
How: ... delivered with the intent to build the person's confidence and capabilities.
Here's an example of constructive feedback I received from a colleague about a recent presentation: "I liked the analogy you used to illustrate the point. I'm curious if a visual aid or graphic would also help the audience better understand your message?"
It took two, the sender and the receiver, to make this constructive feedback successful. Because the sender's exchange was based on the key elements of positive intent, clarity, and compassion, the sender was able to:
A sender's feedback is a gift, because it takes effort to construct and deliver a message, and it takes courage to initiate something with the potential of causing a tear in a relationship.
As for the receiver, you might want to establish boundaries for receiving feedback. I recently facilitated a workshop and was eager for the participant's feedback. I was sleep deprived from not sleeping well the night before the feedback email arrived, meaning my emotional confidence was down. The next day I was well-rested and felt more confident, so I was able to objectively read and contemplate the participants' comments.
Curiosity is important to successful receiving, as it can lead to discovery, learning and continuous improvement. Asking questions to learn more about the sender's observations and asking questions to yourself after the feedback conversation can lead to behavior changes. Take, for example, in a situation that you just received feedback about. Ask yourself what it would look like and feel like if next time you experimented and tried a different approach. One more benefit of being curious is that it mitigates a tendency to want to be right, and to want to create a facade of looking smart at the expense of being authentic.
An effective way to drive change in your organization and team is to model the behavior you want to see in others. Work on being effective with receiving and offering feedack so others feel emotionally safe sharing their observations and the impact of your behaviors. Recognize that destructive feedback has the intent of scolding or limiting the receiver's potential. Consider how you can ask for feedback from others to help them build their confidence with taking risks. Try using phrases like:
Some employees may hesitant at first to participate in sharing feedback. Be patient with them and honor their decision. You can't mandate a lasting culture change, but you can do your part to bring about change by being a role model.
In summary, remember that it's not radical to want to create a workplace culture of employees sending and receiving constructive feedback for your organization and your team to reach next-level performance. Constructive feedback in the workplace means communicating observations and facts, and its purpose is to reinforce positive behaviors and cultivate an interest for exploring areas for improvement. It's constructive when it's delivered with the intent to build the person's confidence and capabilities. The key elements of sending constructive feedback are positive intent, clarity and compassion. The key elements of receiving constructive feedback are gratitude, openness and curiosity.
Take the risk of initiating and participating in feedback conversations, and let me know what you discover.