Politician Frank A. Clark declared, “Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.” What is relatable about Franks's quote is why many struggle with feedback. While Feedback is fickle for many, it is recognized as an important tool for growth. How can feedback nourish growth without buckling the foundation growth is built upon? Let's discuss the pros and cons of feedback.
Feedback is the formal or informal information exchange regarding performance, skills, or teamwork. Formal meaning as a company-sponsored performance review. Informal means during an unstructured conversation or after an event where performance, skills, or teamwork was not perceived as excellent. Its official dictionary definition, related to psychology, is the “knowledge of the results of any behavior, considered as influencing or modifying further performance.” Feedback is a tool to help someone move from one stage of understanding and skill to another. When done right, feedback can be a pleasant and welcome experience. The challenge is that feedback alone can not move the needle. It must be accompanied by knowledge, skill, and aptitude tools to move the improvement needle. When done effectively, feedback improves workplace communication and performance. Leaders will express that feedback is a necessary part of the growth process. Impactful growth comes from effective feedback, commitment to improvement, and appropriate development opportunities.
Employers believe they must immediately provide feedback. Often reflection can be its own teacher. Negative feedback rarely achieves growth. Psychologists say that people will only hear negative feedback in a conversation regardless of the positive provided. Carl Jung, the Swiss Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst, said, “Knowledge rests not upon truth alone, but upon error also.” Employee wants truth, but not at the expense or threat of their mental health or job tenure. According to Buddha, the South Asian Religious Leader and Teacher, “Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.” Here is a case where words matter. It underscores how you approach the conversation also makes a strong impact. Why do employees feel that feedback is bad?
A challenge arises when feedback and advice are included in the same conversation. If you look at the definitions for advice and feedback, they are different. Feedback is “a reaction or response to a process or activity.” while advice is “an opinion or recommendation offered as a guide to action, conduct, etc.” When feedback and advice are married into the same conversation, it confuses both parties and makes the receiver feel more vulnerable. The conversation leans more personal instead of objective. When it feels more objective, it provides more opportunities for reflection.
I have participated in the giving and receiving end of solicited and unsolicited feedback at work. Whether delivered intentionally or haphazardly, feedback is rarely received well when unsolicited, not asked for, given, or done voluntarily. Unsolicited feedback within the performance review structure is stressful, awkward, and unsatisfying. Heavily negative feedback is perceived as critical and accusatory. Even if the conversation was solution-oriented, it was mostly one party providing possible solutions, making the conversations weighted and uneven. Where the conversation was overtly positive, it felt insubstantial. Each party felt cheated with nothing tangible or new to work towards — the good news resulted in a nothing experience.
Employee development will be more successful if feedback is solicited instead of unsolicited in the work environment. Employers should permit and find opportunities for employees to request solicited feedback as they need or want it. There has to be a better way to provide and structure feedback where both parties find it a rewarding experience.
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