How to get/give feedback
Updated: Feb 22
It's been a while EYPeers! Long story short, we've had to leave Hong Kong on very short notice for the time being due to some very questionable policies/restrictions - more to follow in a separate post.
I was recently asked by a fellow professional to write about feedback. What is feedback and why is it important? How do we go about asking for it and when to do so? What is the best approach? How to deliver it when others ask for it?
Feedback is often dreaded because of the implication of having to tell someone (or to be told), that they/you could be doing something better. That's why the first step in any feedback process is to take your ego out of the equation. Always remember that no matter how someone delivers their feedback to you, your role is to focus on the content vis a vis your overarching goal to improve yourself. While I don't condone poorly delivered feedback, or would ever encourage anyone to share their thoughts without ensuring that their delivery and content are sound, it's up to us to focus on what can benefit us, and not to get caught up in anything that does not serve our growth ('examine what is said and not who speaks'). That's why it's important to give whoever you're speaking to the benefit of the doubt, and allow them to express what they think, without taking anything personally. I struggled with this for many years until I chose to change my worldview. People were not out to get me, or trying to diminish my worth - they were trying to help me see things in a different light. Once your ego is out of the way, you open up a vastly important channel for self-improvement.
No matter how introspective you are and no matter how much time you spend reflecting on your performance (academic, professional or otherwise), people from the outside will always have a different perspective, and this perspective will often point you in the right direction. Even when you receive feedback that doesn't quite make sense or doesn't seem to apply to you, dig deep and try to see how you can benefit from it. The beauty of feedback is that it's up to you to discern what applies, up to you to make the changes that you feel will improve your performance, and up to you to manage your emotions/feelings during the feedback process. Once you realise that feedback is meant to benefit you, your output, and the broader team you belong to, it becomes quite noble to ask for it and to face whatever you hear, head-on.
Feedback is a key mechanism in any field, industry and vocation. It's what allows us to go from x to y to z. It's a fundamental pillar of self-improvement, professional development and performance consulting. In fact, humans would never have come this far without it! Feedback is what helps us improve, progress and pivot. Depending on who you're asking for feedback from, you may want to tailor your approach. If you're asking your friends, an impromptu conversation in a casual setting may work well. If you're asking your manager/boss, you may want to schedule a standalone call/meeting or a recurring one every quarter (this depends on how closely you work with them and what the performance review process at your company looks like). There is no such thing as asking for too much feedback in my opinion (as long as you are genuinely interested in improving a certain area, as opposed to asking for feedback for the sake of optics). Everything we do can always be done better, and everybody in a given room will have their own unique perspectives. A huge mistake we make in today's world is that we often equate years of experience with knowledge or wisdom. This is an antiquated way of thinking, that stifles innovation and puts ego at the forefront of everything, ultimately killing creativity and breaking down personal/professional relationships. Even the most experienced executives can benefit from feedback.
As mentioned above, when we receive feedback, it is our responsibility to focus on what can help us improve. When we give feedback, it is our responsibility to focus on sharing whatever can help the other person improve. While this sounds obvious, I'd like to focus on the element of agency within feedback loops:
If you're giving feedback, this should never be done as a power play (to show someone that you're the boss). If you're receiving feedback, you should never allow your ego to get in the way (even if someone else's delivery is not as we'd like it to be).
If you're giving feedback, avoid 'cushioning' it just because you really like the person you're speaking to, because you fear hurting them, or because you care so much about being liked by everyone. I've been in situations where I ask for feedback but the person giving it will quickly gloss over a few areas, tell me I'm doing great, and then let my areas of improvement turn into resentment down the line. Feedback should not require any tiptoeing. A polite approach doesn't mean you have to dumb down your feedback. Equally, if you're receiving feedback, you should make it easy for the other person to share their thoughts. You can do this by giving them the benefit of the doubt, and by learning to not take things personally.
Remember, feedback is meant to benefit everyone. The person giving it will benefit from the improvement in your performance (and so will your broader team if you're part of one), and you're benefiting from someone else's unique perspectives and experiences. Feedback must always result in a win-win situation and I encourage everyone, irrespective of whether they're giving feedback or receiving it, to practice. Giving and receiving feedback aren't innate skills - we've got to build and keep developing them.