Podcast: Giving and receiving feedback

Wholegrain Leadership Podcast #001

This is episode 1 of the Wholegrain Leadership Podcast.

Giving and receiving feedback is one of the essential capabilities of a leader. In this episode, I will explain a straightforward set of rules to apply when giving and receiving feedback.

If you are the person giving the feedback, always speak from your own perspective; be concrete; focus on things that can be changed; and balance the pros and the cons. If you receive feedback, listen and shut up; be thankful; and think about the feedback carefully afterward.

Welcome to the very first episode of the Wholegrain Leadership Podcast. My name is Matthias Catón. In this podcast, we will address all sorts of issues that have to do with leadership that will help you become a leader or grow as a leader. And today it will start with one of the most essential parts or skills of growing as a leader and helping others to grow. And that is to give and to receive feedback. That is absolutely essential. That’s the best way we can grow and we can help others grow as well.

The process for that is very, very easy, very straightforward. There’s a couple of simple rules that you need to follow. So it’s not difficult, but still, a lot of people fail. And when I mean to fail, I mean both ends, the receiving end, and the giving. And I hope that I’ll be able to help you by getting better at this process. If you think of professional sports, for example, it would be unthinkable to have it without a continuous feedback process where the coach observes the person that he’s in charge of gives feedback, and then through iteration, that person will grow in their ability to perform the sports. It’s very much the same as any other area. So no matter where you are working, that is something that you absolutely need to master. If you are able to give feedback, that will obviously be good for those around you.

Those people that you lead. But it’s also good for yourself because if you become a skilled observer of others, that will also help your own personal growth process. I will focus in this podcast on the two roles, the evaluator, meaning the person who gives feedback and the value e the person who receives the feedback. So let’s start with the evaluator. The feedback giver. If you are to give somebody feedback, the first thing you have to do in that sounds trivial, but it’s absolutely essential. Make sure that that person actually wants feedback. And that may sound funny, but people may have very legitimate reasons why they would not want feedback, why they would want to have it at this particular point in time. Or maybe also they wouldn’t want to have it from you. And that is something that obviously you must respect.

The second thing is that you should also check, if possible in advance what kind of feedback the person would want you. One example at Toastmasters International, the international public speaking organization. Every speech project has a set of objectives and it is obviously important that the feedback giver pay attention to that set of objectives and then evaluate the person against those objectives. And similarly, in other situations as well, there may be particular things that people want you to pay attention to. Be sure that you keep the number of things that you want to observe limited.

It is impossible for you to take everything into consideration, and equally, it is impossible for somebody receiving feedback to be inundated with a barrage of well-meant advice and observations. So you should purposefully limit yourself to maybe two or three points. Whenever you give feedback, you should do so right after you have observed a particular situation such as, for example, a speech or an office situation. It’s never a good idea to accumulate too many of the things and then address them at a later stage. It will be difficult if you do so for the person to actually remember the situation and to make sense of what you’re saying, and especially if you have something that you would like to criticize or something where you see an improvement possibility.

If you accumulate too many things and then bring them to the table all at once, that may also be difficult psychologically to handle for the other person and may create the impression that you are somehow keeping tabs on someone. So it would help if you avoided that. Try to make feedback as close to the observed situation as possible. Feedback should always be constructive and positive. That doesn’t mean you should lie. Never say something that you don’t mean. And also, don’t heap people with praise. That doesn’t help anyone. Some critical points are needed for people to improve and to learn. After all, it comes from recognizing one’s weaknesses.

As I said, limit yourself to a few points. Less is more here. To avoid that, people feel overwhelmed. I said try to limit yourself to a few key points. Less is more here. And if you raise too many issues of the personal will easily feel overwhelmed. So two or three central points should be more than enough. Now let’s get to the central points that you should bear in mind when giving effective feedback. And there are four central principles. The first is to always speak from your own perspective. Never make absolute statements and never speak from the perspective of the valuated person. So when you are assessing someone’s presentation or someone’s speech, rather than saying, well, you need to speak louder, say something like. From where I was sitting, I couldn’t understand you very well. Rather than saying you had a confusing structure, say something like, I had difficulties following your argument. The message is the same, but the perspective is different, and it makes it easier for the person to accept.

And of course, we’re talking about perceptions here. It also recognizes the fact that this is just your own subjective perspective and not something that is universally true for everyone. Never assume that your perspective is the same as everybody else. And as I said, critical remarks are easier to accept if they come from a subjective personal perspective. The second is always to be concrete rather than saying something like I couldn’t follow your argument, say something at this particular point.

When you moved from point A to point B, I had difficulties following you. By being specific, the evaluated person can determine precisely where they should think again or where they might need to improve. First, focus on things that can be changed. The purpose of feedback is that a person can grow, that they can make changes, that they can adapt just and become a more effective person. And if you focus on things that are unchangeable. Then, of course, you miss the purpose of feedback. Physical appearance is one thing that is for the most part difficult to alter, but also things that even theoretically might be possible. They are not practically feasible in terms of cost-benefit. If your recommendation would require years and years and years of study, that may be something where the cost-benefit is a bit out of whack.

So that is something that you should generally avoid and focus on those things that the person can actually tackle and change in an acceptable timeframe with an acceptable effort, acceptable in relation obviously to the change or the benefits that they will be getting deriving from that change. The next one, the third one is to always balance the pros and cons. You should always have some positive points that you stress and also somewhere the person could improve.

There is something you might have heard of is the so-called sandwich technique that basically says that you should sandwich every critical point with abandoned top and the bun beneath the with positive kind of flattering things. I personally don’t subscribe to that very rigid structure, primarily because it’s very easy to see through for the person. So they know, you know, your sandwiching the critical parts between two lettering or nice things. But generally, I think what is important is that you don’t go too much into either direction. Just praise may feel good, may make the person feel good, but it’s not usually something that really helps people grow. So this is maybe only useful if you need to really motivate somebody who was utterly depressed. That may be something else, but generally, people also need something that they can work on to improve.

And likewise, if you only drag out the negative parts, that will equally not be very helpful and you risk that people will just shut down and they will not for psychological reasons, they will not be able to let the stream of negativity come close to them. So even if you have a point with maybe some or all of their points, you risk not making your point.

So this is already the four things that you need to bear in mind as an evaluator. Now, what happens if you are the value e the person receiving the feedback, that is much easier. There are only three things that you need to bear in mind.

And the first one is to listen carefully and silently to the advice. It may be difficult sometimes because you will feel that the person is misunderstanding you or they are not doing you justice. And you may feel compelled to jump in, to defend yourself, to explain, to say, oh, no, no, I mean, I meant it in a different way or, you know, I did it because of that. And then that, which is all fine. But this is not the right place for that. So shut up. Don’t say anything. Just listen very carefully. You may, of course, ask questions. Is there something that you did not understand in the feedback that you’ve received?

But please refrain from arguing and explain from refrain from the the need to explain yourself. The second thing you should be do and express is thankfulness. Whatever you think of the feedback that you’ve got, the person has taken the time to listen or to observe you to think what they would want to let you know and to give you that feedback. And for that alone, they deserve to be thanked. So you should be thankful and you should make it expressively. So you so you should say thank you very much. I truly appreciate it. And the second thing and the third thing and then also has to do with taking the other person seriously and earnestly and appreciating what they did is you should you owe them that you think about the feedback carefully afterwards. Think about it. Ideally, you took some notes, go through it, tried to put them, put yourself into their shoes and think about whether or not that made sense.

And here comes the important part. You are by no means obliged to accept all the evaluations or all the feedback that you receive. There may be some points or some cases, even all of them, that you do not accept. You think they are not true? You think they are not helpful. And that is fine. You just silently for yourself discard the advice and that’s it. So you’re not obliged to act on anything that you’re not convinced about.

But if there is something and I hope that in every good feedback session or feedback giving that will be something useful, then you should immediately prepare a short action plan on how you can tackle those issues and how you could improve. And that’s already it. That is feedback giving. It’s very, very simple.

So let’s recap. If you are the evaluator of the feedback giver, you have to follow four basic rules. The first one is always speaking from your own perspective. The second is to be concrete. The third thing is to focus on things that can be changed. And the fourth is to balance the pros and the cons. And if you are the receiver, if the receiver of the feedback, the value e follow those three basic rules. Listen and shut up. Be thankful. Think about the feedback carefully afterward, and if there was something useful, put it into practice through your own little action plan. Easy, isn’t it? You just have to stop doing it. Start practicing it.

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