Everyone needs feedback. Let’s just do it right.

Early in my career, I began hearing that I was “too aloof.”

I was hurt and offended by the description, and didn’t really understand what it meant, so I turned to Webster’s dictionary for a definition. ‘At a distance but in view; apart . . . at a distance; removed . . . distant in sympathy, interest, etc. . . reserved and cool.’ Yes, I was aloof. I was also shy and lacking in self-confidence and didn’t need a psychologist to tell me those feelings resulted in my aloof behaviors.

That’s the thing with feedback. It can be painful, both to the giver and the receiver. But feedback given honestly and with a caring heart, can lead to growth. Learning I was seen as being aloof eventually led me to some behavior changes that had a huge impact on my career success.

Here are some ways you can give feedback in a way that builds up rather than tears down:

First, let’s face it. Feedback has a negative connotation. The phrase “may I give you some feedback?” means you have something negative to say and whether the recipient wants to hear it or not, it’s going to hurt. In fact, asking permission to give feedback is a good way to wrong-foot a conversation. It hints at ulterior motives, and that’s never a good thing.

So limit your use of the word feedback. Instead, say simply, “Pat, there are some things we need to talk about.” Then list the reasons for change in terms your listener can understand, and explain why. A note of caution here: Be sure your reasons for asking for change are not self-serving. Or at least not only self-serving.

Next, get specific with it. Aloof was painful to hear. Eventually I was told I needed to make direct eye contact, focus on the needs of other people and not so much on myself, smile more and frown less, and offer to help more often. Those things I could do, and it wasn’t necessary to change my personality, only my specific behaviors. Rather than say, “You’re too aloof, you need to be more a part of the team,” say something like, “I’ve noticed that you don’t offer many comments in our team meetings. Can you tell me why that is?” In other words, don’t speak to personality, speak to behaviors.

Here’s a big one: when possible, describe a situation in neutral terms and ask the feedback recipient to give you her take on it. Listen carefully and without judgment. Even the most difficult conversation is easier when both parties know they are being heard and understood. You don’t have to agree, just listen.

For example, say something like, “OK, good summary. Now, can you think of some things that could have gone better? What should we have done differently?” What often results with this question is that your feedback recipient will express the same concerns you have.

Next, find some common ground. Summarize the discussion and say, “Based on our conversation, here are some things I thing we can agree need to happen differently next time…” And list the specific behaviors that need to be changed.

Finish your conversation with, “What can I do to help you?” So many times, I’ve witnessed those words turn a negative situation into a positive one.

What do you think? Are there other ways you can turn the negative connotation of feedback into a positive one for both the giver and the receiver? I’d love to hear your comments! Comment below or send me an email at info@patkelleyauthor.net. I promise you’ll get a response.

About Pat Kelley, MS, SPHR

Pat Kelley, MS, SPHR, is the author of three non-fiction books, including the Second Edition of Hiring Right: A Business Blueprint for Lower Turnover and Higher Profits. She is a retired Human Resources Director with more than 40 years' experience. Certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources, she is a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arkansas Society for Human Resource Management.
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