Feedback is a gift, not an entitlement

As human beings we need to assert our position, views and ideas.  It is part of being authentic to say what we think about a situation, an issue or any topic that may arise in a conversation.  To express ourselves is healthy and complete.

Yet how and when we choose our comments is critical.

Speak first party, not third party

It is easy to speak third party language any day. But it is another thing to converse in first party.  What I mean by this is we often can talk about other people when they are not present. We can run through the whole gamut of good and bad in one entire conversation.  The person to which we refer simply remains a cognitive construct, a convenient reference point in the minds of both conversationalists.

When in this mode it is extremely easy for us to judge, criticize and offer one sided opinions without empathy or feeling.

Even more critical is discerning whether and how to express our point of view when it is directed at another person in their presence.

Real life experiences

I am raising this topic for conversation after observing several incidents of people 'volunteering' their opinion in the guise of feedback when in fact the conversation is a thinly disguised power-play.  In each situation the same scenario unfolds. First there is the feedback giver, lets call him "Mr. Know it all" and then there is the feedback receiver, lets call him "Mr inexperienced". Lots of other words could describe these situations.

So the situation arises when Mr Know it All is invited to share what he knows to the participants in the conversation. He graciously offers his wisdom and recognises the appreciation of the listeners. Mr Inexperienced may participate in the conversation eagerly soaking up the knowledge shared. At a conscious level the person giving advice feels like he his helping and the person receiving advice feels like he is learning something he should know.

When such feedback and advice is not invited, these two people can be playing an unconscious power game. The one telling comes from a place of greater power, status and sense of self importance. The one receiving comes from a place of less or diminished worth.

Raising this example I would like to encourage people to be conscious AND conscientious feedback givers. For this to happen I offer up some words of wisdom that you can take on should this be relevant. If not then please pass on to someone you think might need to adjust their feedback style.

Assess whether you are in a position to give the gift of feedback

Self check whether you consider you are the person in the more experienced or less experienced seat. This means considering have you "been there" before or more often than the other hand. If so then perhaps you can speak from a place of experienced based authority.

If not based on experience, are you a knowledge expert in the topic. For example have you completed studies in the area, done research, read a few books, participated online in conversations, blogs and other forums. Essentially you are informed more than the other person on the topic.

Assess whether the person you are speaking to is ready for feedback (before asking)

Observe the other person’s behaviour. Notice signs for readiness and capacity to receive your feedback and advice. For example does the person ask you lots of questions? Seem to be interested in what you know? Does their body language indicate openness? Do they seem to be relaxed and in a balanced state of mind?

Assess the situation and context of your conversation. Timing is everything when it comes to feedback. Are you in an environment where the person will be able to converse with you properly? For example giving the feedback in front of a total stranger who is also in the conversation may not go over very well. Is there enough time to let the person respond or are you about to rush off to a meeting. Simple courtesies and considerations.

Seek permission to offer advice, feedback and / or your opinion.

This is the golden rule as far as I am concerned. Until you speak, the person in your conversation has no idea that you are going to change the course of the conversation, hit them with a blow to their self esteem or change the dynamic of your relationship going forward.

Once you start to offer feedback the other person has a choice whether to welcome it or disregard it. Depending on their maturity, self confidence, sense of self overall they will respond accordingly.

My suggestion then is to actually frame up the conversation by asking if the person would like to receive some feedback from you?

There are lots of other guidelines and skills associated with giving feedback, ie balancing the comments, being specific, giving examples, helpful, etc. However this post is not about these skills, more about the respect you have when giving someone feedback.

So in your circle of influence continue to offer your assistance and share your experience with mindfulness and consideration of the other person at the same time.

Let's go there...


CoachingJenn Shallvey