I'd like to give you some feedback.

OH NO! That’s may be your reaction when someone offers you feedback or even when you need to give feedback.

Often the very idea of giving or getting feedback puts our brains into defensive mode. Most of the feedback we get/give is some version of “You should do X instead of Y.” While it can be useful to get suggestions for improvement, there is another kind of feedback that we rarely get that’s even more helpful. No, I’m not talking about appreciative feedback like “You did a great job with X,” although that’s also helpful.

I’m talking about feedback that lets us understand our impact on others.

For example, you’ve just practiced your presentation for the upcoming conference with a few of your peers. I might say, “You need to punch up your comments about slide 7. It seems weak.” Or I might say, “On slide 7, I lost you. I didn’t feel inspired to act.” Now you can see the gap between your intention and your impact.

There are several reasons we don’t give that second kind of feedback very often.

1.      We think we’re being helpful.
I asked you to give me feedback about my presentation; you’re doing that. But the most helpful feedback you can give is about that gap between intention and impact. The information that only you have is my impact on you.

2.      It feels too vulnerable.
There is the old line that feedback tells you more about the giver than the receiver. Well, this kind of feedback does that intentionally and explicitly. And that can feel vulnerable. 

3.      We don’t actually know how we are impacted.
Well, at some level we do but we may not have that in our awareness. Our cognitive brain takes over and quickly translates that feeling into what we think you need to know – what to do to get better.

Here’s another quick example. Someone on your team is harsh and abrasive in meetings. You decide it’s time for him to have that feedback directly. You’re not wild about doing this, but it’s your job. “Joe, please don’t shout at people and trample their ideas like that.” OK, done. But it may get a defensive reaction from Joe and it won’t likely help much. Alternatively, “Joe, when you shout at people I can feel my defenses go up. I get less willing to contribute to the discussions. I’m guessing that’s not what you intend to happen.” Now there is an opening for a conversation. You and Joe might both learn something. You may hear about Joe’s frustrations with the way you lead meetings; Joe may consider his impact in a new way.

First step? Start to explicitly notice how you are impacted. Instead of “I liked that” think in terms of how you felt or what you thought. “It was exciting for me to consider that option.” Or “I got anxious.” Or “I got butterflies in my stomach.” This will help you prepare to share how others impact you.

If you’d like to learn to give and get better feedback, give me a shout. I can work with you individually or with your whole team to master this critical leadership skill.