Giving and Receiving Feedback That Actually Matters

In the workplace, we spend a lot of time thinking about feedback. And for good reason. There’s nothing we want more as humans than to grow and be better. Feedback is the opportunity to get the response that says “yes, you are growing” or “no, but here is how you can get back on track”. But only with genuine and honest feedback will it ever amount to anything in the long-run.

Kim Scott literally wrote the book on the subject of valuable feedback. Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity introduces a whole host of ideas to dramatically improve the results of any of these feedback interactions from all sides.

Speaking recently on the a16z podcast, she echoed the idea that the best thing a boss can do is to foster that feeling of personal growth among your team and your employees. As much as we may be invested in the growth and the progress of the company as a whole, we need personal meaning in the day-to-day of work to keep us engaged.

And the right way to do that might not be what you expect. Scott describes radical candor as the median between what she calls being “obnoxiously aggressive” and “ruinously empathetic.” Essentially, you can’t be too nice or too harsh. While every case is different, it rarely pays off to assault your employees with criticism or baby them and deny them any chance to grow in either path.

It’s important to know the people that work for you and to know the people you are working for. Nothing can go wrong quite as easily as feedback. Building a framework of trust is absolutely critical before you can hope to take any step forward. Otherwise, people are likely to shut down and refuse to believe what you’re saying has any worth.

In a way, we all have to change our mindset if we are going to make any progress in this arena. Our default response at any criticism is to close ourselves off and assume we know best. Trust both ways can be an effective way to break that down, but we all have to stop thinking only about ourselves and start taking every piece of feedback seriously.

Nothing we do will be consumed by a person exactly like us and it’s important to realize and accept that our own perspective isn’t wholly omniscient. It can be incredibly valuable to start thinking of feedback from that lens. Don’t think of it as a checklist of all the things you need to change about yourself. Take a step outside yourself and think about it from their perspective then parse what matters most.

We would never say that we think of ourselves as perfect, but we do act that way quite often. Or at least, we always assume that nothing can be learned from listening to other people. Maybe you do know better. It’s probably true that every piece of feedback shouldn’t be accepted as gospel. You’re much better off getting outside your shoes, looking at that feedback, and being critical of your work from their perspective with an interest in identifying what exactly provoked any kind of less than positive reaction.

If you’re the person trying to help someone else grow then radical candor is a great place to start. Most people crave a challenge in their life. Be prepared to give it to them as long as you can honestly say that you are doing it to benefit them, rather than to tear them down. If they are especially arrogant, you need to be forceful enough to get them to recognize their own faults.

There’s no doubt that it’s a tightrope walk. You can be sure that they are lying if anyone that says giving or receiving feedback is easy. Only by taking the time to really learn the people you work with—their limits, their needs, and their goals—can you hope to really get good at it. There’s going to be trial and error and a lot of learning, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, it sounds like exactly like the kind of mentality worth embracing every single day.

— ZK

Ed Lynes13p5Comment