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The Other “F” Word

Ok, for the record this is a respectable, professional (at least mostly) blog focused on human resources, leadership and job search (and related) topics. So of course this post isn’t about the use of foul language in the workforce. I am, however, talking about that other “F” word that we use in the workplace – FEEDBACK. Aggh, ok, there I go, I have said it. So why is it that anytime we think of that word it makes us cringe? Is it because we don’t like to receive feedback? Do we automatically think of feedback as being negative? Is this perhaps because anytime we receive feedback it is in fact negative? No one tells you when you are doing a good job (positive feedback) but they sure don’t hesitate to let you know when things aren’t up to snuff (negative feedback).

Perhaps the issue lies with the fact that we tend to categorize the two. That is, feedback has to be either positive or negative. What if we looked at feedback as just one thing – a communication opportunity – an opportunity for two individuals to exchange information for the purpose of growing as professional and improving at work. I know, I know, sounds a little too utopian. Maybe we just need to be more balanced in our approach in giving and receiving feedback? That is, as leaders we need to make sure we deliver positive feedback to our employees and peers as well as negative feedback. OK, let’s call it what it really is – criticism. That is ok though as long as it is constructive in nature and focused on the issue not the person. Remember, at the end of the day this is all just business – nothing personal.

FeedbackPerhaps the balanced approach is truly what is necessary in order to make giving and receiving feedback part of our daily lives at work. Think of it as making deposits in your “social bank account” with someone. When you give positive feedback you are making social deposits into that person’s bank account. When you need to give constructive criticism (negative feedback) you are essentially making an emotional withdrawal from that social bank account. If we make giving and receiving feedback part of our workplace DNA, than it will become an expected social norm. As leaders in our workplaces, it is incumbent on us to establish an atmosphere that encourages this exchange of feedback. If we look at negative/constructive feedback as an opportunity to grow as professionals (and not a personal attack) than everyone in the organization benefits. Yes, I know, this does take a huge degree of trust and sincerity but I believe it is do-able within most companies – with the potential for a huge payoff in the end in form of employee engagement.

So I challenge you all as organizational leaders to work with your business partners to establish this type of workplace climate. Will there be challenges – of course! I experience many of them each and every day myself! It is always a constant challenge to not take constructive criticism (FEEDBACK!) as an affront to my knowledge, skills and abilities. But I try each day to get better at receiving that feedback, knowing that it will help me grow as a professional and as a person. There are always the usual challenges of giving constructive feedback to individuals who are not used to receiving this type of feedback. (You know, the kind of person who has NEVER been told that they could improve on something or that there work was just a notch shy of absolute, sublime perfection). It is human nature to become defensive and resist what the other person is saying to you. To overcome this we need to focus on building solid business relationships and trust in the workplace. Once these two are in place, giving and receiving feedback (of all types) will become part of how you do business. In order to pull this off, I give you six simple rules to follow:

1) Invest the time in building relationships at work – communicate with people on regular basis. Say Hi, engage in some casual conversation….you get the point.

2) Build trust with your employees and peers – honour your commitments and maintain confidentiality when trusted with information by them.

3) The first time you “give” feedback make sure it is positive (see point #1).

4) Strike a balance between the positive and negative (constructive) feedback that you give.

5) The first time you “receive” feedback from someone, and they didn’t follow rule #3, try not to be defensive. Accept the feedback for what it probably is – a well-meaning intent to communicate and make things better at work or with your work.

6) Remember it isn’t personal – it is just business. (Repeat that one several times).

What has been your experience in giving and receiving feedback? Do you still view feedback as the other “F” word? Let me know how you make out with these rules as I would love to hear from you.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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