4 Necessary Conditions for Giving and Receiving Actionable Feedback

Last week we put on two back-to-back leadership institutes while I was transitioning to be the director of our team and we were bringing on some new team members.  In addition, we were lucky to have tremendous leaders (thanks George, Rich, and Larry), who I have great respect for and who took the time to share thoughtful and valuable feedback.  This created a perfect storm that provided an opportunity for different perspectives to inform our work, and at the same time, put me in a position to give feedback to others as they were transitioning into their new role.

As we kicked off the institutes and deepened our understanding of the team’s needs, meeting the needs of the learners in the room required a great deal of flexibility and, at times, some improvisation so this quote summed up my week quite well.

The shortest feedback loop I can think of is doing improvisation in front of an audience. 

-Demetri Martin

My experiences throughout the week and reflection about what worked and what didn’t made me acutely aware of the necessary conditions to give and receive actionable feedback.  I’m thinking about the following 4 conditions and the importance of each when working with others to improve practice.

1. Cultivate Relationships: I have been fortunate to have extraordinary mentors and coaches who continue to help me become a better coach myself.  I gravitate towards those who are passionate about their work but moreover great with people and teach me through their actions that the relationships are fundamental to leading. In the words of a great leader and mentor who was has provided me invaluable feedback: 

To inspire meaningful change, you have to make a connection to the heart, before you make a connection to the mind.- George Couros

When I have a relationship with someone, I appreciate direct and honest conversations that push me to grow but I also know that when I am providing feedback, it’s not about me it’s about them. It is important to develop and foster relationships to understand the needs and the conditions best suited for the one receiving the feedback to ensure that they can hear it and put it into practice.

2. Empathetic Listening: When we hired each of our team members we sought those who valued and sought feedback.  Although they understand feedback is necessary it is not always always easy to hear. Since most of us get up and do the best we know how to, hearing critical feedback can be hard when you put so much effort into doing the best you know at that time. It’s important to attend to the emotional state of others and show compassion by appreciating the positives prior to addressing the next steps. Being empathetic and understanding their perspective is essential to setting up the context where feedback can be received in a positive light.

3. Develop Shared Goals: Without a clear understanding of the goals, it’s hard to provide specific and actionable feedback.   Setting clear goals for where you want to go and prioritizing resources, experiences, and feedback to get there allows for everyone to develop a shared understanding. Learning something new can be overwhelming and messy. Providing focus and support that meets their needs to achieve the shared goals helps foster new learning. To do this there must be a culture where feedback is solicited, valued, and put into practice. 

4. Be Mindful and Intentional: I tend to process things out loud and I realize that I have to be mindful of what I say as it can be perceived differently than I intend.   In the moment feedback can be extremely valuable but it can also be overwhelming.  There were times throughout the week when it was critical to shift the learning experiences in real time based on the needs of the room.  There were other moments where the feedback was not necessary in the moment and was best left for a reflective conversation at a later time. Being an effective coach requires being intentional about the needs and prioritizing conversations based on the best course of action to support those needs.

When the conditions are right, giving and receiving feedback can have a substantial impact on growth.  If you are used to giving feedback think about seeking feedback from others, and if you are usually receiving it, consider how you might provide feedback to help see it from a different perspective.

What other conditions do you think are necessary for actionable feedback?

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