Monday, February 17, 2014

How to receive feedback from your peers

One of the most critical features of a High Performing Team is the ability of the members of the team to be able to give and receive feedback.

If you think giving feedback is hard, how would you go when it is your turn to receive it?

Would you take it personally? Would you get upset? Would you want to get back at the person who gave you the feedback?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn order for peer-to-peer feedback to be effective it must have a context. 

The only reason for providing feedback to each other is so that the person who is receiving feedback has an opportunity to help them be the best that they can be for the team. 

All team members need to share in their understanding of this reason for giving feedback to each other. Secondly, feedback is only ever based on opinion and should be supported by evidence. But evidence is subject to interpretation which is why the folk providing the feedback must understand that there may be other valid ways at looking at the evidence that they are using as the basis for their opinion.

Next, feedback is a two-way conversation. Too many people believe that because they have provided a peer with some feedback then that peer should immediately respond and change their behaviour. Treating feedback as a two-way conversation helps to keep the purpose of feedback in focus (to help the person be the best that they can be for the team) and allows a shared understanding to occur. 

Once my direct reports told me that they believed that I wasn’t a very good example of life balance, one of our agreed behaviours. Specifically they felt that eating my lunch while continuing to work put pressure on them to do the same. 

After I thanked them for their feedback and made sure that I fully understood what they had told me, I explained that the very reason why I ate my lunch at my desk was because of life balance. At the time I had three young children and as often as possible I wanted to be home by 6:30pm to have dinner with my family and then bath my children. There were certain tasks of my role that required that I was on site and I couldn’t take the work home to do after my children had gone to bed. So I had made a conscious choice to eat my lunch while I was working so that I could get home by 6:30pm.

The two-way conversation resulted in my direct reports having an increased understanding of my behaviour. It also raised another issue. My team wanted more social contact with me instead of everything being work oriented. At the end of the conversation we agreed that I would continue to eat my lunch as I had done, but that I would make more effort to have some social interaction with them.

A challenge when receiving feedback is not to be defensive. This is why it is important to make sure that you fully understand what you have been told, and the evidence used to support what you have been told, before you explain why you have done what you have done. Which, by the way, won’t always be possible. Sometimes you will receive feedback that is a surprise and while you may understand what you have been told, you may need some time to process it.

Your mindset when you are receiving feedback is to consider the feedback as a gift. When you have this mindset then you will be open to discovering what your gift is. Some gifts are great and expected, others are wonderful and unexpected and some gifts are for the giver of the gift, not the receiver of the gift (like the PlayStation I gave my wife for her 30th birthday many years ago…). No matter what sort of gift you receive, the first thing to say is, “Thank you.”

Many people are worried about receiving feedback because they are concerned about what they might say if they receive some feedback they don’t like. This is why having a mindset that feedback is a gift is so powerful. You always know what you are going to say after hearing the feedback. Once again what you are going to say is, “Thank you”.

Finally, I am a fan of the process of group feedback than too much one on one feedback. In a group feedback process the group should only report what behaviours they unanimously agree that you should cease, commence or continue. One on one feedback can result in personal issues being over emphasised and the status of your peers being under or over emphasised.

Weight of numbers is what matters. That is why when my entire team of direct reports told me that they didn’t think I was a good example of life balance it was critical that I understood what they were telling me and why they were telling me. The two-way conversation enabled me to re-enforce that I didn’t mind that they had lunch breaks – what I cared about was results.
In summary:
  • Feedback must only be provided to help peers be the best that they can be for the team;
  • Have the mindset that feedback is a ‘gift’;
  • Always say “Thank you” after receiving your feedback;
  • Unanimous group feedback is more powerful than too much one on one feedback; and
  • Feedback is a two-way conversation.
Gary Ryan enables leaders and their teams to move Beyond Being Good™.

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