Monday, December 1, 2014

Why is dialogue essential in feedback?

Giving feedback to your colleagues and employees provides them with an observer's insight into how their performance is progressing, as well as advice to solve any problems. But, for a number of people, hearing the six words, "Can I give you some feedback?" generates fear and anxiety. The words go through a translator in our brain and are heard as, "Can I completely tear you down?" It can be perceived that the person giving the feedback is somehow superior to the person receiving it, putting the receiver on the defense.
One of my dear friends Karin Ulfhielm (http://www.vargkask.se/) wrote this that I really wanted to share with you all.
For many reasons dialogue is essential in feedback. I have outlined the three most important below.
1) Our definitions and experiences of feedback differ, interpretations differ, perceptions of words differ, therefore semantics matter. My definition of a word may be completely different from yours. Our way of using language differs. Some people use a very bombastic language rich with words, while others are more cautious and modest both when it comes to the choice of words and the number of words. It is almost as if we are meant to misunderstand each other. Anyone for a dialogue?

2) We all have “blind spots”, meaning that you don’t necessarily see how your behaviour affects others. The same can be said for everyone around you. You see things in your peers that he or she may not be aware of. Thus, we affect each other in ways we are aware of, but - perhaps even more - in ways we are unaware. We need others to help us become aware of how we affect them. If we choose to act on that awareness or not, is the NEXT step. If we are not aware, we do not have the choice to take the next step. Therefore, we need to initiate dialogue in the form of reflection, active listening and clarifying questions in an elegant and tasteful mix.

3) Our defence mechanisms and “triggers” stop us from reaching the understanding of the feedback we are given. If we are only served with the attitude “I as a giver, am right and you as a receiver are wrong”, we will never get to the source of development and learning which lies in feedback from others. Hence, there has to be dialogue about how we interpret each other and how we affect and influence each other.

The big challenge lies within understanding the feedback we are given. We as givers must be aware and observant in making the feedback “recievable.”  For example, be as concrete as possible with examples on the behaviour we want to illustrate. As a receiver, control our defence mechanisms, so we - at least to begin with - actively try to understand what the feedback is really about. Dare to be curious. Dare to ask more questions. Avoid going directly to the (unconscious) interpretation that the person giving us feedback intends to harm us. Unfortunately, that reaction has been inherited from through generations and we need to be aware and work hard to go against that instinct. Choose to find out what the person giving us feedback is trying to reflect.

In a fairy tale world…
I wish that I
- in feedback situation, can stop my defence mechanisms or at least put them on hold.
- choose to see the reflection/feedback I receive as an honest attempt to help me learn and grow, so that I am able to give myself the opportunity to look at and digest it.
- would give myself the chance of understanding.

I recognize that it is easy for me to link the feedback to my earlier expectations and interpretations, confirming what I already know (or believe I  already know…). This makes it a form of self-fulfilling prophecy. Or I simply dismiss the feedback I am given, because I am convinced that the person/-s providing the feedback only wishes me harm. I do have a prerogative in the subject, haven’t I? Yes, of course I do. However, I can choose to train myself in seeing other sides of the feedback I receive. I can let myself “play” with the perspective that I might be “ALL WRONG”. What would happen then? What can I learn from that? The world is complex. With many different experiences we carry with us, our interpretations of our new experiences will differ greatly in the same situation or reminiscence - again, semantics… A conversation with a sibling or an old friend around experiences from “way back” can show how different we have interpreted events, situations or behaviours.

Is there one solution on how to become a better receiver of feedback?
I do not think there is one ultimate solution, but I believe a good starting point is to actively think of why it is so easy to receive feedback from one person and completely impossible from another? Why do we listen more to what A has to tell us, than B? How do we see ourselves? Are we inflexible, cannot change, end of story? Or, is it possible for us to look at ourselves from a more evolving perspective, where we have a chance of growth, change of approach and leave our earlier views, when we have been given the opportunity to see ourselves in a completely different light?

How can we have feedback being one of our most valuable tools in the toolbox for growth? I believe that if we strive towards a dialogue, we are half way there…!

Rock on, Karin Ulfhielm (http://www.vargkask.se/)

I want to really thank Karin for writing this above and letting me share it.


While giving and receiving feedback can be a delicate process, there's no doubting its value in helping to identify issues and solve them. Business owners should manage feedback in a positive way so that it can do what it's intended to do: Help improve and grow your business.