The act of sharing perceptions and conclusions is called giving feedback. When someone shares his or her perceptions and conclusions with you, it is called receiving feedback. Described this way, it sounds very simple, but giving and receiving feedback is fraught with pitfalls.
Each conversation we have may enhance or enrich a relationship, maintain it, or in some way diminish it. This is the risk we take. We might have had conversations in the past that went sideways, did not accomplish the desired goal or had a negative outcome, particularly if the topic was difficult. These may have established an expectation on the part of one or both of us that things will not go well; and so we enter subsequent conversations with a certain amount of trepidation.
However, most people want to know how they are doing in their work or within relationships. At work, feedback can provide employees with the chance to learn how they can improve their performance. At home, partners, parents, and children can create a healthy, happy environment by learning (through feedback) what is expected of them and how well they are meeting expectations. Unfortunately, not many people, at home or at work, are comfortable giving or receiving feedback. This is primarily because they don’t have the skills and don’t know how to avoid the pitfalls.
Providing feedback presents another opportunity when we may enter into a conversation with another person and discover how important it is to use both active listening skills and assertive expression to deal with the emotion that is present and to ensure we have a productive discussion. As skilled individuals, therefore, it becomes our responsibility to do what we can to set up and conduct the discussion in a way that has the best chance of succeeding. This means removing communication barriers, paying careful attention to nonverbal behaviour, practicing attending and encouraging behaviour, listening actively and speaking assertively.
To be useful, feedback requires sensitivity to the receiver and respectful wording so it will be heard and understood.
Even though the goal of giving feedback is to enable someone to change behaviour in some way to better meet their needs, it remains the receiver’s decision whether or not to act upon the feedback.
The best time to give feedback is when it matters. Providing constant feedback can be annoying for the listener. While there are always ways in which we can each improve, it’s difficult to hear even constructive feedback if it is constant. So follow these guidelines:
- Be selective. Focus on what is really important. Your staff members, family members, or sports team members are more likely to improve if you give them feedback in a couple of areas than if you give them a long list of things to change.
- Be timely. Provide feedback in the moment. It’s important to give feedback almost immediately if the setting is private and suitable; however, you must also ensure that you are prepared and ready.
- Be unselfish. Your feedback should be of value to the receiver. If you are asking for change only because it benefits you, think twice about providing the feedback.
- Be concrete. Your feedback should be based on observable behaviour and you should be able to provide examples.
- Be fair. Your feedback should relate to something that is changeable. If it isn’t possible for the person to change, then don’t offer the feedback.
- Be kind. Any feedback, even though messages, should be given in a straightforward way using respectful language in a kind tone of voice.
- Be accepting. Providing feedback alone won’t necessarily result in change. You need to completely accept that the other person has the right to accept or reject what you are saying.
Ideally, feedback is given out of care and concern for another person, to assist in the development of their skills, or to strengthen your relationship. This being the case, the following process might be helpful.
|Feedback must be …||which means you need to …|
|Observed||describe behaviour that can be seen or heard, without inferences about its cause|
|Relevant||focus on something that is related to the performance and possible to change|
|Specific||provide examples to illustrate comments|
|Positive||emphasize what is done well|
|Constructive||include suggestions for improvement, if desired|
|Timely||provide feedback as soon as reasonable after the behaviour or performance and frequently as necessary|
|Appropriate||deliver at a suitable time and place, in private if possible|
|Caring||offer it in a respectful, kind manner|
|Clear||check that information has been understood and answer any questions|
Now that you have explored the various skills and techniques that can be applied to deal with emotionally charged situations, and particularly those involving conflict, it becomes important to consider how you will apply these when you return to your everyday life. What differences will all of this make as you interact with family, friends, neighbours, and work colleagues? How will you use what you have learned to enter into meaningful conversations and resolve conflicts with a child, spouse, co-worker, boss, or coach?
Receiving feedback gives an opportunity to practice the difficult but transforming art of non-defensiveness.
- You are in a “learning laboratory.” If you are not making mistakes, you may not be learning much.
- Practice the art of devoting your attention to hearing and understanding feedback rather than on defending the things you did. The feedback of those you are negotiating with or mediating gives important information for your reflection.
- It is better to learn from mistakes in a safe learning environment than when you are negotiating or mediating “for real.”
- We are all responsible for our own learning. Take responsibility for your successes and your failures, and the course and role plays will be rewarding for you.
Begin by creating a supportive environment at work or at home. Be prepared to . . .
- Look for the problem in the situation, not in the person.
- Make small changes, moving forward only one step at a time.
- Channel conflict into constructive discussion by looking for the positive that can result from a situation.
During the previous blocks, you have had an opportunity to examine some of the factors influencing your personal approach to conflict, specifically your preferred conflict style, values, belief system, and assumptions.
You now have a chance to learn more about and practice some of the techniques and skills that can assist you in dealing with conflict in an effective way. These techniques and skills relate to how we communicate with others and, for many of us, require a significant shift in paradigms; in other words, they require a change to a new way of thinking and behaving.
It can be very challenging to incorporate these tools into our everyday lives, particularly when we are faced with emotional and conflicting situations. Nevertheless, the results are well worth the effort!
From Judgment to Curiosity
Instead of trying to assign blame or make a judgment about something that has happened, change your focus to learning more about the other person’s perspective.
Ask open ended questions that repeat key phrases used by the other person (often referred to as hinging on their language) and that relate to the Think-Feel-Do Loop. Avoid close-ended questions that can only be answered by yes or no, thereby limiting the response.
From Blaming to Accountability
Making the shift to accountability involves accepting responsibility for your choices and making new choices, if required.
From Past to Present to Future
The past does not determine the future. Stop arguing with the past because the story doesn’t change. Rather, learn from the past and apply it in the present to create a different future.
From Defensiveness to Validation
When we feel attacked by a comment, we have a choice. Instead of attacking back, defending yourself, or trying to change someone’s mind, validate the other person’s perspective using the skill of paraphrasing. Take the opportunity to let the other person know what you have heard and confirm your understanding.
Defense mechanisms are a person’s way of protecting him or herself and coping with stress. Defensiveness gives rise to the following communication behaviours:
- Endless explaining
- Withdrawing into silence
- Loss of humour
- All-or-nothing thinking
Here are four steps to overcome the tendency to react defensively:
- Recognize and name the behaviour as defensiveness.
- Identify your typical defence mechanism (the one to avoid).
- Note how your body responds physically (quickened breathing, faster heart rate).
- Slow down, detach (instead of a retort, ask a question, listen), think positively, and start over.
From Positions to Interests
When in conflict with someone, it is helpful to …
- recognize each of your positions (oppositional statements that suggest solutions to a problem),
- identify the issue (a neutralized version of what is to be resolved), and
- focus on your interests (what is important about the issue and motivating each of you, such as values, needs and concerns).
This approach will help you move away from the disagreement and toward increased understanding that will enable you to work together to solve the problem in a mutually satisfying way.
Frazer, A. E., Evans, R. A., & Kraybill, R. S. (2001). The Peace Skills Leaders’ Guide San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Plutchik, R. (1980). “The Nature of Emotions”. American Scientist. Retrieved: 20 June, 2014.
© 2014 ADR Institute of Alberta
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