Most people have a lack of ability to stay silent and hold their thoughts to themselves.
Their inner critic eats them alive from the inside out. People just can’t help themselves to tell you what they think. Whether you want to hear it or not.
This isn’t the first time someone has created a set of rules for feedback, but I feel the need to document this guidance. If anything, I can use it for myself in the future, and a bonus would be if you used it for something valuable too.
We know that feedback comes in many forms. Here I’m focusing on the kind of feedback we give to people with the intention to improve something or to make something better.
There are three main steps in the rules for feedback.
- Asking for feedback
- Giving feedback
- Receiving feedback
Towards the end, I’ve provided a few suggestions on how you can use this to create a culture of feedback and trust within a group of people.
It’s all pretty straight forward and ‘common sense’, but I’m certain we can all do better, and that includes me too.
How to ask for, give and receive feedback
Let’s use an example to make this easy to follow. Let’s say you’ve just drafted a blog article for your website, and before you publish it you want to get some feedback from your peers.
1. Asking for feedback
Asking for feedback is where it all starts, but it can all go badly wrong if you don’t ask in the right way.
A bad example – “Hey, I’ve drafted this blog article. Keen for your thoughts and feedback. What do you think?”
Two things are likely to happen here.
- Either no one will say anything, because they don’t know what you’re looking for. Or,
- You’ll get feedback on things you don’t want feedback on, which will piss you off
There is a third scenario; someone asks you a series of questions before giving you feedback to find out what kind of feedback you are looking for. This person is smart, and more on that next.
So, what can you do better here to help facilitate healthy feedback?
When you are asking for feedback, be very specific about what you want feedback on.
- I’m not sure if the title really does this article justice, I’d love your thoughts and ideas on how I could improve the title of this article.
- I feel like the conclusion is weak in this article, what do you think I could do to strengthen how I close the article?
- Do you think this article truly covers the topic, or do you think it needs to go deeper? I’m not looking for grammar or spelling feedback at this stage.
When you are specific with what feedback you are looking for it helps people understand what you are looking for and makes the whole feedback process a lot easier. In turn, this gives people the permission they need to give you feedback, and you get the kind of feedback you are seeking.
A great feedback experience starts when you ask great questions.
2. Giving feedback
I’ve split this into two main parts. Firstly, for when you want to give unsolicited feedback, and secondly when you have permission to give feedback.
Firstly, How to give unsolicited feedback…
People love to tell you what they think, don’t they? And there’s nothing worse than unsolicited feedback.
“Hey, I read your article today and I have some feedback for you…”
Most people can’t help themselves. They’ve got something to say, and they are going to say it.
Let’s draw a line in the sand here right now.
Unless someone asks you for feedback, you don’t have the permission to give it.
Either someone asks, or you shut the hell up!
The world is already full of enough critics, we don’t need more.
Here are some typical examples where people think they are doing the right thing, but they are really just serving themselves. I’ve heard variations of the following…
- “But I can give feedback in a ‘constructive’ way…” Nope
- “But what if I notice something that I think could be better and would truly help them?” Nope
- “But what if I notice that they are really doing something wrong?” Nope
- “But I know this topic better than they do and I can help them?” Nope
Nope. Nope. Nope.
- Is it possible for you to not be a critic?
- Could you play a supportive role instead?
If you can’t do something else other than being a critic, don’t say anything.
It’s not easy for most, but it’s for the best.
So…now we’ve got that out the way, let’s move on…
Secondly, Giving feedback when you have permission…
If the person asking for feedback has been clear on the feedback they are looking for, and you feel like you can provide valuable feedback, then go right ahead and do it.
Don’t hold back. Just get right into it. There’s no need for the ‘praise sandwich’. There’s no need to justify yourself. Don’t waste your time and everyone else’s. You were asked for feedback, and now you can go right ahead and give it.
However, in most circumstances, people are poor at asking the right questions for specific feedback. So, the best thing you can do is to ask a few questions to clarify what kind of feedback is being asked for. You will help them, you, and anyone else that’s involved in the conversation. Get super clear on what’s being asked for first, and get stuck in if you’re still the right person to give feedback.
In summary; wait until you’re asked, make sure it’s clear what is being asked for and then get to the point.
3. Receiving feedback
The final part of the process.
In short, you’ll get what you ask for.
If you ask for specific feedback, and you ask the right people the right questions, then everything is probably going to work out pretty well for everyone.
But manage your expectations and don’t be offended by what people say. Be open to taking the direct feedback, especially since you’re the one asking for it.
If you aren’t prepared to take the feedback on board, then you need to consider if you should be asking for feedback in the first place.
Don’t forget that you are asking someone to take time to spend helping you. Be respectful of that time and whether you agree with the feedback or not, be kind to others and be thankful.
A quick summary of the feedback rules
- Asking: Be specific about the feedback you want
- Giving: Don’t give feedback unless asked. Ask questions to clarify. Get to the point.
- Receiving: Respect peoples time. Manage your expectations. Don’t be offended, especially if you asked for it.
How to put this guidance to good use
Over the 15 years or so that I have been facilitating groups and leading teams (and years of managing a growing community), establishing and cultivating a culture of trust is one of the major factors that determines how effective a group of people can be – whether that group is based online, or offline.
This advice can be put to use in small to large organisational teams, group coaching (online and offline), workshops, and even a 1-2-1 setting.
In order to get the best from people, everyone must be involved in creating and agreeing to the rules.
Why is this so important?
When they say how they should behave, they own it. They feel accountable and by proxy agree to the rules. When you say it, it’s your rules, and it won’t have the same impact of establishing a trusted bond in the group. It’s always better to have them say it than for you to tell them.
For example, when I work with a new group – either in person or online – one question I ask very early on to help establish how we will behave as a group is: “What do we all need to do to get the most from this session/workshop/class?”
You can then facilitate discussion around this question. Almost always someone will mention something to do with feedback, like “We must all be open to receiving feedback”, and that’s your cue to help facilitate a discussion to establish how you will all deal with feedback.
These follow up questions are good examples of how you can help your group to establish the rules for themselves:
- “What do you mean by ‘being open’ to receiving feedback”?
- “Under what circumstances should we give feedback?”
- “What do you think is the best way to structure that feedback?”
- “What do we need to do to make sure we get the correct level of feedback?”
- “Are there any specific times when we should not give feedback?”
The key with this technique is to pull the answers out of the group, by asking the right kind of questions and using minimal encouragements to help them explain themselves better and go deeper.
Use questions until you feel that the group or class has a set of guiding principles for how they should behave and deal with feedback as a team.
My challenge to you as a leader or facilitator is to try this out and be disciplined with yourself to not tell people the answers you’re looking for. Have patience and push yourself to always ask a question rather than tell them the answer. If you’ve never done this before, I’d love to know what kind of results you get when you give it a shot.
Helping each other to be better
Asking for and receiving feedback is a brave thing for most of us to do, and as leaders, we need to help create an environment where our people feel safe to ask for feedback.
Creating and facilitating a culture for feedback is a beautiful thing when it works well. You know you’re doing something right when you can sit back and watch your people interact with each other in a positive way, and you can see how they all help each other to be better.
That’s what we all want and need – the right people around us that we trust to support us, and help us to be better. But it doesn’t always happen organically…in most cases, there’s always a great facilitator or leadership role helping things along.
What can you do differently or better to establish trust in your groups quickly and effectively?
I’d love to know if you find a good use for these rules and advice, let me know in the comments or on Twitter (@chrismarr101).
Likewise, if you have anything to add that has worked for you to establish trust in groups, I’d love to hear about it.