Giving feedback is a skill that is refined over time. People are different, in different situations, across different activities, and environments. There isn't ever a clear-cut situational precursor to people when giving them feedback, and delivering feedback in the incorrect way for the situation at hand, could cause negative consequences.
I believe the first step in being able to give good feedback is knowing how to receive feedback from others. It is a behaviour that overlaps with giving feedback, and overtime, I've learnt to be patient and welcoming to the person giving me feedback, and have given this advice to others with a degree of success.
I have also developed a framework (in the form of an acronym) that might help you receive feedback better yourself. It is called "LADA" pronounced "ladder" in Australian English (excuse my exclusion of other variants of English, I am not creative enough to derive an acronym that encompasses all accents).
LADA stands for: listen, absorb, decide, and act. Receiving feedback (be it verbal or written) whilst running this process, will help in several ways:
- It encourages the giver of the feedback to freely convey their thoughts;
- It allows the receiver of the feedback to dig in further in the feedback received, so that details may be uncovered that may be valuable for improvement; and
- It allows a structured approach to identifying relevance of feedback so that the receiver can improve.
The framework above isn't anything outrageously creative or innovative. It is derived from the Design Thinking approach of divergent thinking first, then convergent thinking. So I will not take full creative credit for it.
Below are the steps and an explanation of each one.
Step One: Listen
The first step is to listen to the person giving feedback. This may seem like an obvious action at first, however, it is harder in practice. Especially when the feedback that's being given, is one where there is disagreement.
Listening to the other person is important as it allows the other person to express and refine their thoughts. At this stage, be patient, do not disagree (the opportunity to do this will come), do not ask for refinements, and encourage the other person to keep on talking or writing. The most important part in this step is to allow the other person to say or express everything they're thinking and feeling (feedback doesn't necessarily have to be completely objective). Ask questions like:
- Is there anything else you want to tell me?;
- Is there more?; and
- Feel free to send more feedback if you think of anything else afterwards.
Giving feedback is a sensitive act, and many people who give feedback understand this, as such, they are often reluctant to express all their thoughts. Therefore, encouraging others to express all their thought, by creating a safe space through listening, will allow the person receiving the feedback to extract everything reasonably possible within the timeframe available to them.
Step Two: Absorb
After listening, and allowing the person giving feedback to express their thoughts, opinions, and feelings in a manner whereby they felt comfortable, the person receiving the feedback should switch to the next step; absorb. Personally, I like counting three seconds prior to shifting to the absorb stage.
At this step, the person receiving the feedback should seek to understand and clarify feedback given to them. Asking questions for clarification, and asking the giver of feedback for concrete examples is a fruitful technique. At this stage, the clarifications and examples given to the receiver of the feedback shouldn't be one that challenges the giver, but one that helps the person receiving the feedback further understand the feedback they've received more intimately, and in more detail. At the absorb stage, I like to ask questions like:
- Can you give me an example?;
- Can you expand more on that example?;
- Do you think I could've done something differently in that situation?;
- What would you have done?;
- Can you give me more examples?; and
- What would your preference have been?
It's important at this stage to assess the balance of positive and negative feedback being received. Giving positive feedback is easier than negative feedback, and if the receiver is noticing that all feedback is positive, it is important to ask for more items for improvement from the person giving the feedback in order to understand more intimately the areas necessary for growth. Some questions that may help are:
- Is there something that you think I can improve on?;
- Do you think I could've done something differently in that scenario?; and
- Are you sure that there isn't even something small that I can improve on?
Step Three: Decide
Following the absorb stage, the receiver of the feedback should move into the decide stage. The environmental context for this stage is different than the previous two. Where the previous two are happening at the point of receiving the feedback, the decide stage happens both at the point of receiving the feedback as well as through reflection and introspection afterwards. Here, the receiver decides whether the feedback they have received is legitimate, genuine, and something that will be actioned.
When deciding at the point of receiving feedback, the receiver should be careful not to completely become defensive with the feedback. If there is genuine disagreement with the feedback given, then politely disagreeing with feedback is something that may bring on new points of feedback. If this is the case, go back to step one. As a matter of principle, for individuals who are not accustomed to receiving feedback, I would suggest to refrain from executing the decide step during the receiving of feedback.
When deciding after introspection and reflection, it is important to examine one's feelings in such a way that helps the receiver make a decision on which feedback items to address.
Step 4: Act
The final step of the LADA framework is "act". This step is about creating actionable items derived from feedback items in the previous "decide" step. Of all the steps in the framework, this is the one that is done after the interaction between the giver of the feedback and the receiver. Many items should be actionable with outcomes that are measurable. I'd encourage setting up these goals or outcomes using common formats like SMART goals or OKRs. In saying that, not all feedback items should be in the form of outcomes. Sometimes being aware of situations and asking colleagues or friends to provide you with feedback periodically is important for improvement.
The LADA framework is something that has worked for me in the past, if it is something that you feel may work for you, use it liberally and widely. If it is something that you wish to modify, please do so accordingly as well. If you're new to receiving feedback, you may find following this framework in its entirety to be very beneficial. If you're accustomed to receiving feedback, you may find that you've already been doing a lot of the techniques highlighted above. If that's the case, I'd encourage you to formulate your methods in writing in order to help others. Finally, feedback is a gift given by others to help you, you can accept this gift in however way you please.