Feedback, is it really the breakfast of champions? How to give it and how to take it

Ever heard those words in the workplace “Can I give you some constructive feedback?” Of course, we all say yes (especially if it’s the boss) but sometimes the messenger lacks the right skillset so it isn’t delivered well enough to enable you to act. Sometimes you just don’t have the courage and confidence to say “no not today” especially if you’re having a bad one.

Feedback, is it really the breakfast of champions? How to give it and how to take it

skillset feedback

Ever heard those words in the workplace “Can I give you some constructive feedback?” Of course, we all say yes (especially if it’s the boss) but sometimes the messenger lacks the right skillset so it isn’t delivered well enough to enable you to act. Sometimes you just don’t have the courage and confidence to say “no not today” especially if you’re having a bad one.

The Theory

All the personal development gurus and text books advise us “to know your blind spot” and quote feedback as “the breakfast of champions.” The reality is without some training, constructive feedback is not always that easy to give or to hear. It’s rare to hear of a motivating feedback experience. The sender, of perhaps a sensitive message, maybe hasn’t thought about their productive motives or provided adequate facts.

The Case of Samuel

I met with Samuel the other day. We’ve had a coaching contract on the go for about 6 months and this was his last session. As we sat in a cosy little café by his workplace he wasn’t his usual positive, cheery self. His feigned smile, and out of character fidgeting caught my attention. Samuel and I know each other well enough to be respectfully direct so rather than continue the small talk I commented that although he said he was fine, he didn’t look it.

“I‘ve had some negative feedback and I don’t know what to do with it” he gasped.

The Feedback

A client had passed on some “constructive criticism” as his boss called it. The delivery of the message was ok. Samuel trusted his manager and felt confident about his motives. It was the lack of specifics that had made him defensive. “How can I get to be the best that I can be if I have no hard facts to work with?” Samuel blurted out!  The girls on the next table looked over curiously. Samuel sunk back into his chair. We sat in silence for a few moments to allow us both time for our emotional responses to catch up. We sipped our coffees and tentatively I asked him what he thought wasn’t “working out.” He speculated a little and we finally agreed that all we had was fiction, the information was non-factual. No examples, no specifics, no facts just the client’s opinion. Not helpful for anyone’s interpersonal growth.

What Organisations Tell Us

Working with teams and professionals at all levels, this tale is not unusual. All of us at some point or another have encountered situations in the workplace when others have used some skill to articulate the message in a sensitive way yet missed out the specifics, so we find it hard to change. Then there’s the often heart-broken Taylor Swift way “so casually cruel in the name of being honest” where hard core facts are communicated clumsily, and it hurts!

With all the research out there is there a right way to do it? With the right training and coaching, yes.

The Solution

One way that works for me is clarity. Clear, simple facts spoken with pure motives help us to seek understanding. One without the other leaves us with problems or a half truth. So, my advice to Samuel: go back and talk to the client directly. Get those facts and then decide if the feedback is clear. Do you agree? Do you respect the client’s view? Do you want to change? Can you change? The answers are within and if you don’t want to find them then stop the self- speculation and move on.