Does my bum look big in this?

Whether we like it or not, we live in an age where we are constantly receiving feedback from our environment. Our phone chimes to let us know we’ve got a text, our car pings at us when we need to refuel and our fitness trackers tell us how much or, how little sleep we have had. So why when we appear so receptive to feedback is it something that are fearful of in the workplace?

I have had the privilege of working with a few clients recently in the Energy Sector. They are very different animals with different cultures, diverse employees and varying challenges, however there is one thing they all have in common – the lack of a feedback culture.

I recognise that this is not just a sector specific problem but more of a very British thing: we are just not that good at it. Some of the comments I have heard include ‘Why would I ask for feedback? I am just getting on with my job.’ or ‘The only time I get feedback is when I have done something wrong’. Why do we perceive feedback in such a negative light? Giving and receiving feedback is key to developing ourselves both individually and organisationally. Research has found that although employees frequently seek feedback from their colleagues, managers or leaders seek significantly less feedback from their colleagues[1]. The increased use of feedback in the workplace has shown managers consider themselves and their direct reports as being more engaged, proactive and cohesive[2] (Lawrence, 1993). Giving and receiving feedback helps to increase our self-awareness of below par performance and can support and guide our future learning and development. None of us are the finished article. I wanted to share with you some tips to help you better frame feedback conversations:

  • Create enough time and opportunities for informal feedback. Do you turn up at your child’s school for parents evening thinking my little cherub has been doing so well only to find out from the teacher that they are doing poorly and being very disruptive? Why didn’t you know about this? Equally in the workplace, don’t wait for an annual performance review to give someone feedback. This should be ongoing and frequent. This will create an open and honest relationship and build trust.
  • Focus on something that the individual is doing well before constructively sharing with them something they aren’t doing quite so well. Offer suggestions to help them develop before rounding off by reminding them of the thing they are doing well. You might also offer to support them.
  • Deliver feedback in private. Be aware that everyone is different and some people may feel uncomfortable receiving positive feedback in public. If you have to have a difficult conversation with someone this should always be done in private.
  • Be prepared! Think about what you want to say before you have the conversation. This doesn’t need to be scripted but you could create bullet points as a reminder of what you want to say.
  • Before doing any of this check your motives. Feedback is designed to improve a person’s performance or a situation so taking a measured and positive approach means that the outcome is likely to be better.

I believe by following these simple steps, we can work towards creating a culture of being more open to the notion of feedback in a balanced and constructive way. Go ahead and give it a go and reflect on the results. You owe it to yourself, your colleagues, peers and line manager to give them feedback. If they are doing something well then just go ahead and tell them. If they are doing something less well support them to develop. So next time you hear that perennial question ‘Does my bum look big in this’, you may be better equipped to give an honest (and constructive) response.

[1] van der Rijt, J, Van den Bossche, P. and Segers, M.S.  (2013) ‘Contextual antecedents of informal feedback in the workplace’ Human Resources Development Quarterly, Vol 23(2).

[2] Lawrence, H.V. (1993) ‘Using the work group as a laboratory for learning: Increasing leadership and team effectiveness through feedback’, Human Resource Development Quarterly Vol 4(2)

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