Please Give Me Your Feedback

The other day I was in the kitchen as my daughter was cooking a cake with a friend. She asked me to give some feedback on the way it was coming together. OKAY – now what to do?

(Or, tell me what you think I want to hear and I’ll remember what I believe.)

The other day I was in the kitchen as my daughter was cooking a cake with a friend. She asked me to give some feedback on the way it was coming together. OKAY – now what to do? On the one hand, I love her passion for cooking (she’s really the only one out of the four that seems to have my love for being in the kitchen). On the other hand, I knew that if I gave the feedback I felt I should give, she wouldn’t want to hear it – and would probably explain why that particular feedback didn’t apply in this particular situation. This started me thinking about the feedback process and how it’s simply fraught with perils for both parties that are involved.

But why is it so hard? And what can be done to make it more effective and (hopefully) helpful? Let’s start with why it’s hard……

We’ve all been burned before. You have, I have. We’ve all been in the situation where someone asks for our honest feedback but the moment it’s given, the reaction is grave. And you are left wondering – “Why didn’t I just keep my mouth shut?? It was never going to change anything anyway!”

There isn’t actually anyone to give the feedback. We’ve all heard the dangers of surrounding ourselves with ‘yes’ people, people who go along with our ideas even when the ideas may be less than spectacular. But even when the leader tries to guard against this, they may find it hard to get usable feedback. Research shows that this issue increases the farther up the ladder you climb. Many senior-level leaders feel they live in an echo chamber, where their staff members are likely to just echo the leader’s thinking.

It might expose a weakness. Leaders who ask for feedback may run the risk of sharing development goals or areas of weakness. This may create an environment where they feel judged or that their ability to lead is called into question. “If Sue is asking for feedback related to the way the project is going – does this mean she’s unsure? Or maybe she’s thinking we are going in the wrong direction?” You can see how this could lead to a very unhelpful chain of assumptions.

So, what’s the key to overcoming some of these challenges? Here are a couple of perspectives to consider…..

Why is the feedback process simply fraught with perils for both parties that are involved?

Relationships matter, or said differently, it’s all about trust. The relationship between the requester and the giver really does matter. It requires an atmosphere of trust that is genuine – not just lip service. It also helps if the person asking for the feedback is genuinely curious. There must be an explicit and implicit understanding that there is risk taken on both sides of the feedback equation. Research would indicate that leaders who genuinely seek honest feedback in an environment that is based on trust are seen as more effective than those that have not created this environment of trust.

The type and quality of the feedback matter. It’s important that the feedback be specific and actionable. If the feedback doesn’t provide information to guide actions and/or behavior change – it’s hard to consider that it’s all that helpful. It’s also very helpful if the feedback ties directly back to the specific goals of the individual (which should be in line with the goals of the organization). It may be helpful to use specific tools or methods to frame and support this process until the feedback reaches the level of quality that is most effective.

At the end of the day, it’s possible to create an atmosphere of trust and provide both parties in the feedback process with guidance, tools, and support to enable a productive feedback loop. Done well, this just becomes a part of the way the team and organization operates.

And in case you were wondering about the cake baking example….I did give my honest feedback and it was actually well-received (whew)! And the cake was delicious!



If you would like to discuss how your organization could create a more effective feedback process, feel free to set up a time to connect. We would love to share some best practices that we know will make a positive impact on your teams.