We’ve had quite a few requests from organisations recently to develop people’s skills in giving feedback. Call it what you like – constructive criticism, peer review, supervisor input – there are two notable things about workplace feedback:
It’s a common problem, in all sorts of organisations
Most people find it challenging to do well (which probably feeds into the above observation!)
It’s a perennial issue that usually doesn’t get much attention, possibly because there’s a popular assumption that ‘anyone can give critical feedback’. For over three decades, we’ve met people struggling to do this well. So we developed our own workplace micro-skill: Giving hearable messages.
Why is receiving feedback so difficult?
Although we’re meant to hear criticism of our work without taking it personally, this seems to be a myth! Most of us have an emotional response.
When our work performance is criticised, it can quickly plug into our unconscious ‘selves’. Our ‘inner critic’ may hear the feedback as confirmation that we’re a failure. Our ‘defensive self’ may want to argue back; our ‘fearful child’ may imagine dire consequences, worrying about losing the other’s approval. Unconsciously, it’s a minefield!
What happens when you give feedback to someone?
We often see people ‘wimp out’ when trying to communicate critical feedback, or what they see as ‘bad’ news. Our ‘approval-seeker’ self may worry they won’t like us. Then, when that doesn’t work we can flip over into being bossy, and our ‘righteous self’ may want to tell them off for not getting the message. None of this is helpful, and is another unconscious minefield.
Giving hearable messages
When you need to say something tricky or critical, you need to make sure that the other person can hear you. It’s hard enough for people to receive compliments; no wonder we find it difficult to give or receive critical feedback!
To make a message hearable, it needs to be specific, about behaviour, and free from assumptions or judgements on the situation. It’s best if you use ‘I’ language, and requires an honest base of inquiry, listening and acknowledging.
We’ve had quite a few people tell us their story of how they actually wrote out their hearable message beforehand – and the remarkable difference it made! This micro-skill helps you to be brave.
Here’s our Hearable Messages Daisy on how you can give feedback that can be heard.
May your year be full of hearable messages!
If you’d like to learn how to apply this approach so you can use at work – and life – get hold of our book Getting Our Act Together: How to harness the power of groups or come and do some training with us. It can really make tricky things go well.