The Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback as a Leader

The Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback as a Leader
Photo by John Schnobrich / Unsplash

As a leader with an engineering background, I've created this blog post to share with you my experiences and learnings on the art of giving and receiving feedback. Feedback is the breakfast of champions, but it can be a bitter cheerio to swallow if not delivered or received effectively. Therefore, I have compiled some actionable strategies and best practices that I hope will help you level-up as leaders.

  1. Build a Culture of Feedback
    As a leader, it's crucial to establish a culture of feedback in your team or organization. You should encourage your team members to give and receive feedback regularly. This culture should be built on the foundation of trust, respect, and a growth mindset. If you create a safe space for feedback, it will become a natural part of your team's work process.

  2. Be Specific and Actionable
    When giving feedback, be specific and actionable. Don't just say, "This code is terrible." Instead, provide concrete examples and suggestions for improvement. Also, avoid making it personal or attacking the individual at all cost. Focus on the work, not the person.

  3. Receive Feedback with an Open Mind
    When receiving feedback, listen with an open mind. Don't be defensive or dismissive. Remember, feedback is an opportunity to learn and grow. In short, keep your ego in check. Ask clarifying questions and seek to genuinely understand the perspective of the person giving the feedback.

Helpful tactics to receiving feedback:

1. Write it down: After receiving feedback, take some time to write down the key points that were mentioned. This can help you better understand and process the feedback. You can also refer back to your notes later when you're ready to take action.

2. Ask for clarification: If there is any part of the feedback that you don't fully understand, don't be afraid to ask for clarification. This can help you better understand the perspective of the giver and ensure that you're taking the right actions to improve.

3. Set goals: Based on the feedback you've received, set specific and actionable goals for yourself. This can help you focus on the areas that need improvement and give you a clear roadmap for how to move forward. Make sure your goals are measurable and have a specific deadline so that you can track your progress and hold yourself accountable.
  1. Don't Delay Giving or Receiving Feedback
    Don't wait until the end of the project or the performance review to give or receive feedback. The longer you wait, the less effective it becomes. Feedback should be given in real-time or as close to it as possible. This allows for immediate course correction and prevents small issues from becoming big ones. Metaphorically speaking, it's best to strike while the iron is hot.

  2. Practice Active Listening
    Active listening is a critical skill when giving or receiving feedback. It involves fully focusing on the speaker, asking questions, and summarizing what they said to ensure you understand their perspective. This not only shows that you respect the person giving the feedback but also helps you gather valuable information.

    After the giver has finished giving their feedback, paraphrase what they said in your own words to ensure you fully understood their perspective. For example, "What I heard you say is that you're concerned about the quality of the code. Is that correct?" This not only shows that you are listening but also helps to clarify any misunderstandings.

    Nonverbal communication, such as maintaining eye contact, nodding, and avoiding distractions, can also show that you are fully engaged and actively listening. It is important to avoid interrupting the giver and to give them your full attention while they are speaking.

  1. Use the Feedback Sandwich
    The feedback sandwich is a popular tactic used to soften the impact of negative feedback. It involves sandwiching constructive feedback between positive feedback. For example, "I really appreciate your attention to detail, but I noticed some areas where you could improve. [Elaborate on your specific situation]. Overall, great work!" While this can be effective, be careful not to dilute the feedback or come across as insincere.

  2. Give Feedback in Private
    When giving critical feedback, do it in private. Feedback can be sensitive, and public criticism can be embarrassing and damaging to someone's self-esteem. Giving feedback privately also allows for a more honest, open conversation and reduces the possibility of emotional blowback.

  3. Use "I" Statements
    Using "I" statements is an effective way to avoid sounding accusatory or making assumptions. For example, instead of saying, "You're not communicating effectively," say, "I'm having a hard time understanding your communication. Can you help me better understand your perspective?"

  4. Reflect on Feedback
    After receiving feedback, take some time to reflect on it. Ask yourself, "What can I learn from this?" "How can I use this feedback to improve?" "What actions can I take to address this feedback?" This process of reflection and introspection can be powerful in driving personal and professional growth.

In conclusion, giving and receiving feedback is a critical skill for any leader. Building a culture of feedback, being specific and actionable, receiving feedback with an open mind, not delaying feedback, practicing active listening, using the feedback sandwich, giving feedback in private, using "I" statements, and reflecting on feedback are all important best practices to master. Remember, feedback is an opportunity to learn and grow.

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