Giving and receiving feedback are important skills to have for everyone, especially for supervisors and leaders. Leaders who provide effective feedback can direct, engage, motivate, inspire and empower others in a very powerful way.
While positive feedback is a great motivation, critical feedback provides greater opportunities to grow and develop. Learning how to use positive feedback to praise and critical feedback to correct effectively can improve communication and relationship. You become a better leader if you can master the skills of giving and receiving feedback.
In her book Feedback Skills for Leaders: Building Constructive Communication Skills Up and Down the Ladder (2006), a revised edition of Giving and Receiving Feedback (1998), author Patti Hathaway talks about how to deal with critical feedback and give constructive feedback.
There are three types of critical feedback – valid, unjustified and vague critical feedback.
1. Valid Critical Feedback – The feedback is based on facts and truth.
2. Unjustified Critical Feedback– often expressed in broad, general terms that are unrealistic, untrue, and may be spoken in anger. It can be a result from a difference of opinion, of not living up to someone else’s expectation. It may come from the critic’s feelings such as jealousy, fear, insecurity, or arrogance. This type of critical feedback may say more about the critic than it does about the person being criticized.
3. Vague Critical Feedback – People often do not communicate their expectations clearly. For critical feedback to be genuinely helpful, it must be expressed in specific, concrete terms, so that others can understand the expectations and take appropriate action if needed.
There are three stages of response to critical feedback.
1. Awareness – When we are being criticized, our natural instinct and response are counterattacking, becoming defensive or becoming a silent victim. These responses of putting critic down or passive reaction do not promote a climate for dialogue and to build a relationship. The right approach to handling critical feedback is to be aware of the critical feedback and then move quickly to assessing its merit.
2. Assessment – Assess whether the critical feedback is valid, how the feedback was
delivered, and the intention of the critic.
To determine whether critical feedback is valid or invalid, ask yourself several questions:
- Do I hear the same feedback from more than one person?
- Does the critic know a great deal about the subject?
- Are the critic’s standards known and reasonable?
- Is the critical feedback really about me? Or is the critic
merely having a bad day or upset about something else?
- How important is it for me to respond to the critical
If you respond positively to most of the questions, the critical feedback may be valid. If you respond negatively to most of the questions, the feedback is likely to be invalid.
3. Action – It’s important to check the facts and consider your response carefully. Remember – do not react!
Here are some action strategies for dealing with critical feedback.
Fogging – When faced with unjustified critical feedback, avoid counterattacks. Keep your self confidence and self-esteem, and don’t take the critical feedback personally. Acknowledge the possibility that there may be some truth to the critical feedback, but do not become irrational. Uses active listening skills to paraphrase the critical feedback while adding a fogging statement. Another approach is to disagree politely.
Admitting the Truth – For handling valid feedback, the first thing we
must do is accept it as valid. Accept your mistakes and faults. Thank your critic
for bringing the problem to your attention. Say what you will do to correct the
mistakes. Ask your critic for suggestions.
Requesting Specific Feedback – Requesting specific feedback is the most effective technique in handling critical feedback, especially feedback that is vague.
To give constructive feedback, remember to set realistic goals and expectations, research
the facts, choose your timing, and most importantly, be specific – using the
- Describe the behavior and action, not the “motive.”
- Describe teh situation and outcomes you want.
- Describe a specified time, place, and action.
- Use concrete terms.
- Acknowledge and express your negative feelings calmly.
- Ask for a change in behavior.
- Specify the concrete actions you want stopped or performed.
- Reaffirm the other’s ability to make the change.
- End on a positive note.
Giving and receiving feedback is a gift for leaders and will help you become more effective.