The Truth About Feedback

Feedback_May2017

When people talk about feedback, sometimes there’s a subtle, underlying assumption that it’s about telling you ‘the truth’ you need to hear – the hard, constructive stuff that will make you better. Under that assumption is often another assumption that there is some specific way that we should be, that there is some absolute about how one should behave.

Feedback invites us to be kind and caring

towards ourselves, others and the environment within which we exist.

Have you ever heard someone say that ‘feedback is a gift’? To give it as it if were a present requires holding an underlying, corresponding positive intention for the receiver. Without feelings of openness and generosity, feedback feels anything but constructive, and can, in fact, be truly destructive. Feedback invites us to be kind and caring towards ourselves, others and the environment within which we exist.

Feedback is primarily about listening to what’s happening within and around us…

about seeking input to inform our thoughts, intentions, and actions.

It’s easy to get fooled into thinking that feedback is a process to follow, especially when organizations create processes and tools to support building a ‘feedback culture’. Feedback is primarily about listening to what’s happening within and around us. Feedback is about seeking input to inform our thoughts, intentions, and actions. It’s about sensing and responding.

Feedback is always available to us.

Feedback is always available to us. Sometimes we are just moving so fast, stuck in auto-pilot, multi-tasking and lost in action.

In every moment, there’s the opportunity

to look inside of ourselves for feedback.

In every moment, there’s the opportunity to look inside of ourselves for feedback. If we pause – even for a breath – we might discover how we are feeling, what we are experiencing, and what that information means to us. It’s so easy to forget that our emotions and bodily experience – not just our thoughts and the actions they trigger – are available to guide us in being our best.

In every moment, there’s the opportunity

to look outside of ourselves for insight.

In every moment, there’s the opportunity to look outside of ourselves for insight. We can intentionally move our attention to someone we’re engaged with and be curious: what are they experiencing, what are they really saying, and how can that inform me and what I need to do right now? We can sense what’s happening in our surroundings to help us know what’s needed. We can explore the energy in the room, or the culture within our team or the organizations within which we exist. How might what’s happening in the broader context provide me with an enlightened perspective or guide me in knowing what’s needed to move things forward in a positive, strategic and helpful direction?

Incoming information simply provides a point of view

that enriches our perspective.

It’s easy to take incoming information as ‘the truth’, whether it’s from within ourselves, from others, or from the environment around us. Incoming information simply provides a point of view to enrich our perspective. What someone else shares with us, for example, our leader or colleagues giving advice about how our performance might have been even better, represents their truth – their gift is sharing what they feel or think. We gain insight into what they see from their vantage point, based on their experience and frame of reference. Receiving their truth can tell us as much about them as it does about ourselves. Likewise, when we give our feedback to someone, we are sharing our reality of a situation; it is merely information available to help fill out a picture. Just as someone else’s truth is not ‘the truth’, our truth is not ‘the truth’.

We can take someone else’s truth, particularly those in a position of authority, as ‘the truth’, and in the process, get out of integrity with ourselves, replacing our truth with their truth. The opportunity is in taking both perspectives and opening to an informed, broader view.

Want to go deeper? I invite you to reflect on the questions below. You might journal or start a conversation about them.

  • What does feedback mean to you?
  • What assumptions are underneath your definition of feedback?
  • How do you seek feedback?
  • When and how do you give feedback?
  • What does your feedback tell you about yourself?

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*  I took the photo that opens this post on a rainy day at Playa Fuentes, Cantabria, Spain. I selected this image of a flower because plants provide an example of responding to feedback in the form of sunshine or water.