Thanks, but no thanks for the feedback

If you’ve been a professional for any time, you know what a “feedback” conversation means, don’t you? A scheduled time when your clients, managers, or peers “constructively criticise” your work/contribution towards a common objective with a level of detail that either amazes or amuses you.

It might be amusing because the conversation about all of your shortcomings makes you wonder:

A) If they’re even half as good as you are — if not, how the hell do they even know if they’re right?

B) If they were as detailed oriented in their damn work! It sure doesn’t feel like, and hence the conversation lacks credibility.

And then some conversations are nothing short of fantastic because the other person was committed to adding value to you. To make you better. To make you think. To help you to see things differently. To be a better professional. To push you to explore broader horizons.

The challenge is that such conversations are hard to come by. For most professionals, it’s a pipe-dream. They want to grow and develop but don’t have the proper insight to help them be better. And the flaky feedback doesn’t do them justice except, maybe, get the work done and out of their workflow.

While there’s no getting around to the problem, there are a couple of things each of us can do to help others:

A) Provide feedback focused on the future instead of the past (feed-forward). It doesn’t matter what they did yesterday; what matters is what they can do today and onwards. If it’s project-related feedback, instead of talking about the blunders they made, talk about the what, how, and why you would like them to do things.

We’re better served if we hear things as is, “Sunil, thank you for your efforts. I loved what you did with this, that, and the other. For future projects, I think there are three things you can improve on to be more effective…” Give them the details — the “how-to” improve a bit. That’s the most valuable part to them. And if you don’t know the “how-to,” tell them something like, “Since I don’t have your background in copywriting, I’m not too sure what you can do to be more strategic with time-sensitive projects. What’s your perspective on this?”

Can you feel the difference?

B) Stop using “but” in your conversations. If your feedback sounds like, “Sunil, your presentation was fantastic, but you could’ve…” I stopped listening to you the moment I heard “but.” It’s a universal reaction; I can’t do anything about it. Throw the “buts” out of your conversations. It’s useless, and contrary to what people believe, it doesn’t help you transition into the “areas of improvement” part of your mini-speech.

It does a fantastic job of establishing you as an unauthentic person who doesn’t give a damn about the other person. Is that the case? Maybe not, but it sure does make the other person feel bad.

So, the next time you see an opportunity to share feedback with someone, keep the future in and the “buts” out of your minds. If you’re at the receiving end, listen to what’s been said without any judgements and once done, pause, reflect, and ask questions on how can you get better in future. Let them advise you on the way forward.

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