‘We’re striving for a ‘Speak-up Culture.’”
hat’s what one of my clients shared with me this past week as I prepared to deliver a keynote for them on feedback. “That’s a great idea to value and espouse,” I thought to myself.
“But how does an organisation actually create, educate, enable and encourage that,” I ask myself.
It’s the same frustration I have with the word ‘feedback’. I know it’s supposed to help us perform better. We’re supposed to want it and in a speak-up culture, we should be empowered to deliver it.
But, if we just all ran around telling everyone else how we feel about everything all the time the result will be chaos, not a compassionate and constructive culture.
So, let’s unpack a few misconceptions around speaking up and feedback. And let’s repack them in a way that will be more helpful for the givers and the receivers.
Feedback requires proximity
After a client finished delivering a high-stakes sales presentation on a Friday afternoon, he wasn’t surprised that he didn’t receive immediate feedback from his director.
But he was surprised when the following Monday and Tuesday came and went and he still hadn’t heard anything.
Don’t sit on feedback. For both the giver and the receiver, our memories fade over time. So, too, does the impact.
Feedback requires specifics
“Keep on doing what you’re doing.” No fooling, that is the verbatim feedback one of my coaching clients received from her general manager recently. My client shared she initially felt pretty good as she read that on her performance review. But upon reflection, she began to feel more and more uncertain.
Why didn’t her manager cite any of the specific team-building projects or other efforts she had worked so hard on to achieve in the past six months? In particular, she had produced a highly interactive year-end, virtual town hall meeting of which she was very proud. Enlisting the help of several company leaders, including her direct manager, she had gamified the beginning of that meeting with a lively get-to-know-you session that everyone had raved about. Her manager had participated with apparent gusto during the meeting yet failed to mention it to her afterward even once. “I felt like he was only ticking boxes as he filled out yet another HR-required form. I didn’t feel seen.”
You may think a comment like, “steady on” is proper feedback. But it’s too generic. Pay attention to calling out individuals for individual examples of where their work effort stood out. Each of us wants to be recognised. But we likely won’t replicate an effort that took a lot of extra work, if it’s not noticed and highlighted by anyone in leadership.
The converse is the same. “That was no good” is a broad brush which doesn’t offer specific guidance or course correction. What are we to do with a sloppy dismissal like that, except for feel bad about ourselves and possibly fill with resentment.
From-the-hip feedback triggers our fight or flight reaction.
Feedback requires care
Instead, let me offer you a brief series of clear, compassionate, and more specific substitution phrases for you to begin to incorporate into your lexicon. This stuff doesn’t come naturally, folks. So cut and paste this list somewhere that you can practise the lines out loud many times regularly. It’s only through practise that they will become your more tasty, effective, and relationship-enriching substitutes for the generic, watery gruel you are currently serving up and calling feedback.
For instance, if you used to say: “Can I offer some feedback?” Try instead: “Here’s my reaction.”
Immediately, you are taking out the trigger-inducing word of feedback and you are gearing yourself to provide a specific reaction to a particular action or activity.
Beware of blanket statements such as “I didn’t like that”. Try to narrow your focus with something like, “When you did (or said) x, I felt y”.
And finally, instead of “Good (or bad) job”, try adding specifics like, “Here are three things that really worked (or didn’t work so well) for me”. Then toss the discussion back to them by closing that thought with an open-ended question like, “What do you think”?
Crafting an open-ended question is a gentle way to hand the conversation baton back.
To promote a speak-up culture, try listening and asking questions
Remember, our approach isn’t the only approach. Is there one agreed-upon universally accepted method to whatever it is you’re offering your feedback upon? Probably not. Instead of saying, “Here’s what you should do”, try, “Here’s what I would do and why” and then ask for their reflections.
I encourage any speak-up culture to also adopt a listen more culture. This involves us striving to tame our “Feedback Frankenstein” by instead asking more questions and seeking to understand the other person’s perspective.
The fundamental goals of speaking up and providing positive feedback are to uncover, explore and agree more productive ways of working.
But before we open our mouths, preparation can help us craft timely, specific and positive response-inducing approaches which will accelerate the outcomes we want.
Write to Gina in care of [email protected]. With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor.
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