Feedback—Most of Us Have It Wrong, so It’s Time for a Fresh Start!

Feedback—the mere mention of the word can make your blood pressure and defenses rise. For many of us, it’s a dirty word that we associate with painful conversations, bias, politics, resentment, and self-doubt. Yes, feedback has a branding problem—a negative reputation that we’ve built one lousy experience at a time.

Yet if we step back and think about the potential value of feedback, we’d realize it shouldn’t be a bad thing. To improve, grow, and advance, we need insights that help us do that. When it’s given correctly, feedback lifts us up, helps us understand our strengths, shows us pathways to achieve that next step, and sometimes even changes the course of our lives.

If feedback can be that good, how have we gotten it so wrong?

Many of our beliefs about feedback are incorrect and counterproductive and have long been distorted by bad experiences that began early in life and have been reinforced ever since. What experiences am I talking about? When feedback is used to punish, shame, or manipulate. When managers heap a big load of it onto an unsuspecting employee. When biases influence perspectives. When tough feedback is contained between disingenuous compliments to help it go down a little bit easier. When it’s shared in the wrong place and time. When it makes its way from one colleague to another then another, who finally tells the person being talked about what was being said. When someone thinks that brutal frankness is the best approach or that passive-aggressive insinuation will get their point across. When feedback is shared only when the person wants to make it clear that something—or someone—didn’t meet their expectations. To be fair, extenders of feedback are not fully to blame for darkening feedback’s brand. Receivers also play a strong role in creating uncomfortable and hurtful experiences when they shut down feedback, turn the tables, dismiss the input without consideration, or stomp off in a huff.

Imagine letting go of those unpleasant experiences, the bad habits, the worn-out ideas, the old practices and instead capturing the goodness feedback has to offer. Imagine creating work environments fueled by positive connections and cultures where helpful feedback flourishes. Imagine working in an environment where you feel safe being authentic and transparent about who you are and equally upfront about the work you still need to do to be who you want to be. Environments where people understand that feedback is light and easy, focused and future-oriented, and shared without bias or judgment. A world where we let go of the fear and embrace the help others offer us.

That imagined world is within our reach, but if we’re going to make it a reality, we’ve got some work to do. It will take a seismic philosophical shift in how we think about and practice feedback. That new world requires that we start with a clean slate and adopt a full feedback fix that arms us with the knowledge and skills to leave the bad behind and take the good forward. A fix for feedback that offers easily applied, science-based techniques to minimize the “fight, flight, or flee” response and readies all of us to seek, receive, and extend feedback that helps and doesn’t hurt, that elevates human performance rather than diminishes it.

If you’re ready to fix feedback, please join me at ATD 2019. During my session we’ll explore the science behind feedback and gain an understanding of why we fear it and how to fix it. We’ll practice mind/body hacks to fight the fear, dig into the “fabulous F words” behind feedback (fairness, frequency, and focus), and create new habits to apply to your role as seeker, extender, and receiver of feedback. We’ll arm you with the key ingredients you’ll need to launch your own initiative to fix feedback in your organization.

We’re not just pondering the problem here. We’re taking real action! We’re starting a movement to fix feedback for the world. Are you ready to join us? I hope so. See you in Washington, D.C.!