Do you remember the first day at work? You were thrilled to face the new page of your life that's just turned. Generally speaking, as you accrue years of your career, you gain more influence and responsibilities. You might have started your career as an assistant but now you are a manager, a director, or even an executive. Looking back on all the years you've walked, we would acknowledge and accept that learning is truly a lifelong journey and you learned a lot along the way. And that learning is very different from the conventional definition of it. This kind of learning is highly practical and happens on the job almost daily. You are not given any time to warm yourself up or peek into what's going to happen; You only 'learn' by throwing yourself and your hat into the ring. That includes giving and receiving feedback, and more importantly, refining yourself according to those learned lessons. That makes this type of learning more unique. In the classroom, a teacher is the main source of knowledge and direction. At work, every person you meet, especially those you work closely with, can give the advice and guidance you need the most at the moment. To sharpen yourself, gently pushing yourself forward and onward, you need to know what to take from the pool of different advice and apply them in action. That's the only way to grow. Problem is, we sometimes don't want to take feedback from others. By the same token, we probably don't want to table our thoughts for others. It is not comfortable and sometimes very frustrating. Then it puts us in a very difficult position: If giving/receiving feedback is the only way to grow for myself and the team, how can we practice it with fewer humps?
Think Again about How You Should Give and Receive Feedback
Stephen Covey is a famous author for his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The 8th Habit, which was published 15 years after, quoted the results of a Harris Poll of 23,000 U.S. residents employed full-time. The findings were quite appalling:
Only 1 in 5 was enthusiastic about their team’s and organization’s goals.
Only 1 in 5 workers said they have a clear “line of sight” between their tasks and their team’s organizational goals.
Only half were satisfied with the work they have accomplished at the end of the week.
Only 15 percent felt they worked in a high-trust environment.
Only 17 percent felt their organization fosters open communication and better ideas
Only 20 percent fully trusted the organization they work for.
Only 13 percent have high-trust, highly cooperative working relationships with other groups or departments.
This data shows that a significant portion of employees struggles to do a job that is not only meaningful on a personal level but also highly contributing to the team. This phenomenon is so common that many of us would probably take it as an uncomfortable yet realistic norm and just go with it. Without addressing this deeply rooted issue, we will not be able to find our organization to move forward on a higher level of performance.
Feedback: On the Giver's End Evaluate how effective you truly are as a feedback giver. When you give your direction and/or share your advice or insights with your coworkers or employees under your supervision, how clear are you? In the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, a set of guiding principles in addiction treatment, there is a huge emphasis on clarity. Being unclear about expectations, ambiguous about what you are looking for, or skirting around an issue, is dangerous. Such fussiness sets people up to fail and begets bigger, more serious problems in the future. Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, summarized it simply:
Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind. Most of us unintentionally avoid clarity to avoid rigid, tense, uncomfortable situations. We often feed people with half-truths to make them feel better. This is not kind. At the bottom of this behavior, there is a want that we want to make ourselves feel better, not them. It is unfair not to get clear with your colleagues about your expectations and then hold them accountable later or even blame them for undelivered products. Clarity is kind and it begins with setting up clear boundaries. Instead of talking about people, talk to them directly. Go the extra mile to communicate your thoughts and feelings with them. Don't try to dilute the urgency or significance of the message. Be straightforward with the ultimate transparency. The bottom line of any effective communication is having two or more people on the same page. *Reminder: Don't get confused about being clear with being disrespectful. At all times, we shall always respect our colleagues/coworkers notwithstanding different opinions and perspectives.
Feedback: On the Receiver's End Receiving feedback is probably as hard. It is more so when it directly or indirectly impacts the part of you that is related to your insecurity. Feedback enlightens the listeners about his/her lack of personal awareness, not his/her lack of particular skill sets. However, fear often triggers our fear, pushing us into a spiral of stinking thinking such as "I am not enough", or "There is no way I can get better than this." Or we can become aggressive. After a long trail of thoughts, we might arrive at a conclusion such as "I am actually better than them. Who do they think they are to give me feedback?" Neither is healthy. Nor constructive. Both ways of thinking will only leave you discontented and hinder you from progressing further. A quote from Joseph Campbell, a renowned American writer, can suggest a good guideline here. He said, "The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek." Applying this quote in action, next time you receive feedback at work, ask yourself these two questions: 1) What treasures am I looking for? 2) What is the cave that makes me fearful to enter? Answer these two questions honestly and take the feedback accordingly. Clarity will enhance the quality of the feedback that you give to others. It will also maneuver you in receiving, filtering, analyzing, and applying them in action.