A Movement to Fight the Fear and Collectively Fix Feedback

January 25, 2019 Tamra Chandler

Click the player at the bottom of this post to listen to our WorkHuman Radio interview with Tamra.

Fight fear

Feedback: The mere mention of the word can make your blood pressure rise and your defenses go up. For many of us, it's a dirty word we associate with bias, politics, resentment, and self-doubt. Yes, feedback has a branding problem – a negative reputation that has been built one lousy experience at a time. Yet, when we take a step back and think about feedback’s true intent, we realize it shouldn’t be a bad thing. If we as humans want to improve, grow, and advance, we need insights.

The roots of feedback’s branding problem lie in the way we think about it and experience it. Our misconceptions, bad habits, and defense mechanisms have led us astray. To redeem feedback, we need to examine how we got here and why we’ve learned to fear it. Equipped with a better understanding of what’s getting in our way, we can then make a fresh start on fixing feedback once and for all. We have a collective opportunity to open new doors that lead to bigger and better outcomes for all – you, me, and the teams we support. But how do we do it?

Our fix is going to require a fundamental change, a seismic philosophical shift in our thinking about feedback. We won’t get there with a simple tuneup of our current delivery methods. Nor will calls for more direct feedback in cultures where uncertainty, distrust, and outdated ideas of feedback persist make a significant difference. To redeem feedback, we need a movement! A movement that starts with you and me. A movement that moves us out of the danger zone of telling others what they need to change and into the collaboration zone where we figure things out together.

To get our movement off the ground, we need to take these three actions: 

  1. Embrace a new working definition of feedback.
  2. Anchor our methods in the bedrock ideas of trust, connection, and the three fabulous F’s of fairness, focus, and frequency.
  3. Build an army of Seekers who are empowered to ask for insights.

A New Definition:

I’m putting forward a new definition for our movement to embrace. It looks like this:

Feedback (NOUN): Clear and specific information that’s sought or extended for the sole intention of helping individuals or groups improve, grow, or advance.

Each of those words has been carefully selected. We won’t dissect the whole definition here, but let’s take particular notice of the concept that feedback should have “the sole intention of helping.” If feedback isn’t intended to help individuals or teams thrive and grow, then why offer it or seek it? If what you’re shelling out doesn’t meet this sniff test, then don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s feedback.

Bedrock Ideas:

To develop individuals and build teams that thrive, grow, and operate at optimum levels of performance, we must start with trust. Trust is built over time through human connections that are kind and supportive and that send a strong message that we’re in this together. Trust isn’t built in a day; there is no shortcut. It’s the product of an ongoing process that is influenced by how we show up in every conversation, decision, and action. If we begin by building trusted connections with those valuable people who see us at our best (and worst) every day, we’ll have a solid foundation for our movement.

Every successful movement needs a call to action, a motto that inspires its followers and keeps them true to the mission. We’re launching our movement under the banner of Fairness, Focus, and Frequency. And as we march forward together, we plan to fly these three F’s high and proud:

  • Fairness is locked arm-in-arm with trust and is therefore vital to setting the scene for successful feedback. If a relationship or any given exchange is tainted with a perceived lack of fairness, feedback won’t work. Given our human tendency for bias, ensuring fairness both as the Receiver and the Extender requires tenacious focus and the acceptance of our own imperfections. It also means that we need to extend (and receive) feedback without judgement by leaning heavily on what we’ve witnessed and experienced, then bringing what we’ve noticed to an open conversation. Finally, welcoming more voices into our feedback ecosystem is a powerful way to mitigate bias, connect ideas and themes, and build a trusted network of support.
  • Focus is a big idea delivered in small bites. Focused feedback is like snacking on positivity and possibility, as opposed to gorging on performance reviews and banked-up lists of strengths and weaknesses. Focus is at the heart of our definition of feedback when we speak about being clear and specific.
  • Frequency is the accelerator of feedback; while fairness and focus fuel the engine, frequent connection is where the rubber truly hits the road. Frequency improves the quality of our relationships and accelerates our learning; it tells others, “I’m paying attention, and what you do is important and notable.”

The good news is that, when you’re flying three F’s, feedback is light and easy. Quick observations delivered frequently and without pomp and circumstance will have far more impact than infrequent, formal, contrived conversations. Finally, feedback that embodies fairness, focus, and frequency strengthens our connections and builds trust, freeing everyone involved to take more risks and seek greater growth.

Army of Seekers:

Our movement has got to start with Seekers, and I’m hoping we can enlist you. Why do Seekers play the most important role in fixing feedback? The reasons are many. Here are just a few:

  • Seeking is the ultimate trust generator. It demonstrates humility and that you value the input of others.
  • Seeking helps us build connections with others and nurtures our trusted relationships.
  • When you seek feedback, you’re more likely to act on it.
  • When you’re seeking, you’re in control. You can request the insights you need to grow and advance according to your plan, not someone else’s.

Are you ready to join the movement? Imagine what we can do together. Imagine creating cultures in which feedback flourishes. Imagine a world where we feel safe being authentic and transparent about who we are and just as open about the work we still need to do to be who we want to be. A world where we let go of the fear and embrace the help others offer us. A world where feedback is no longer a dirty word.

(Tamra will co-present a session entitled “Rebooting Feedback: Creating a World Where Feedback Doesn't Hurt!” at WorkHuman 19, in Nashville, March 18-21.)

About the Author

Tamra Chandler

M. Tamra Chandler is a nationally recognized thought leader, author, and speaker known for developing new and effective ways for people and their organizations to perform at their peak. Currently, Tamra serves as Principal in EY Americas People Advisory Services.

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