110. How do you give and receive feedback?

What comes to mind when you think of the word ‘feedback’?  When was the last time you can remember receiving feedback where your response was, ‘that was very helpful’? And when was the last time you were affirmed by someone who was receiving feedback from you?  For many of us, we have to think very hard and long!

Definition: Feedback is information about reactions or response to a product or programme, a person’s performance of a task, or a person’s experience of something, which is hopefully then used as a basis for improvement.  We use feedback in all walks of life, but the truth is, feedback is difficult to give and difficult to receive. 

Feedback comes in a number of ways to us – through written or verbal reports we receive, from comments made in a class or team and from non-verbal reactions we see or hear in body language, in response to what we say or do.

In our hearts I think we all understand that feedback is important and that it can help us grow, develop and improve in whatever it is we are doing.  However, the general feeling from the words, ‘Can I give you some feedback?’ is fear and anxiety.   This is especially true when we have received harsh words and negative input from parents, teachers and leaders. It’s almost like we think this person is going to tell me I am a complete failure and I might as well give up now!

It can start well:  When we are in the mentoring process of learning a job, we expect to be getting it wrong some of the time and make mistakes.  We are looking to have good input on how to master the skills and be effective in what we are doing, so we don’t keep making the same mistake.  So, in this early phase, we need feedback and hopefully act on it, in order to improve and grow in competence.  However, there comes a time as we gain confidence, when we feel we know what we are doing, our openness to feedback is not so appreciated.  So when someone gives us negative feedback, we can take it personally, get defensive or withdraw.   

What are the benefits of feedback:  It’s good to keep in mind the purpose of feedback and it’s definitely not to ‘show who is the boss around here!’

Feedback is to:

• Help us to know how we are coming across to others

• Informs us whether we are doing or communicating what is expected

• Gives us a standard to work towards

• Encourages us to improve in what we are doing

• Shows us our blind spots and helps us to grow in awareness

• Develops an appreciation that we haven’t arrived and encourages humility

The sad news (if the research is true) is that research by Kluger and DiNisi shows that only 30% of people improve with feedback. The other 70% either ignore the feedback or get worse trying it.  The Harvard review paper, The feedback fallacy, has some extremely important findings.  The writers share: ‘the research is clear: Telling people what we think of their performance doesn’t help them thrive and excel, and telling people how we think they should improve, actually hinders learning.’  Now obviously when damage control is needed, leaders have to bring correction and solutions to the problems arising.  However, in every day activity in the workplace, or YWAM base, perhaps there is a different approach to bring about continued growth.

The idiosyncratic rater effect: This principle states that more than half of your rating of someone else reflects your own characteristics, not theirs.  In other words, the research shows that feedback is more distortion than truth.  Now if you have a very defined set of outcomes that you are rating against, then you can get closer to being objective but there is still a lot of opinion being used.

In the DISC indicator, the formulators of it encourage the focus on strengths first and then to manage weaknesses.  Similarly, StrengthFinder encourages us to focus on our five top strengths.  So perhaps in feedback too, we need to focus more on what the person is doing well, rather than what they are doing wrong!

Dallas cowboys: There’s a story about how legendary Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry turned around his struggling team. While the other teams were reviewing missed tackles and dropped balls, Landry instead combed through footage of previous games and created for each player a highlight reel of when he had done something easily, naturally, and effectively. Landry reasoned that while the number of wrong ways to do something was infinite, the number of right ways, for any particular player, was not. It was knowable, and the best way to discover it was to look at plays where that person had done it excellently. From now on, he told each team member, “we only replay your winning plays.”     

We can do the same. Whenever we see one of our team do something well, that really worked and made an impact, stop and highlight it.  By helping our team member recognize what excellence looks like for them, we help them gain an insight. Use phrases like ‘this is how that came across to me’ or ‘this is what made me think’ or ‘did you see what you did there!’  We highlight a pattern that is already there within them so that they can recognize it, anchor it, re-create it, and refine it. That is learning.

When we need to help someone improve: Here are five tips that can get us on track to giving productive feedback. 

1. Create safety. Perhaps only 30% of feedback is applied because people don’t feel comfortable and are put on the defensive.  To create safety in relationships we need to put effort into the environment where the feedback takes place.  Make it personal and comfortable and come across in a relaxed and friendly mode – not with an edge or with an attitude that you want them to feel bad! 

Jesus prepared a beautiful setting to meet Peter on the beach after he had denied him.  He prepared breakfast, he did a little miracle with some fish, he simply asked some questions to give the feedback to Peter, that everything was OK and Peter could serve him again after his failure.

2. Be positive. Look for ways of encouraging the person and remind them that no one gets everything right straight away or even with lots of practice.  We can learn so much from evaluated experience and so feedback can help us to develop and improve. 

Jesus met the seventy-two disciples after having sent them out two by two.  They came back with such good reports and He encourages them – While you were ministering, I watched Satan topple until he fell suddenly from heaven like lightning to the ground. Now you understand that I have imparted to you all my authority to trample over his kingdom.  Luke 10:18-19.

3. Identify the improvement needed. Give more positive feedback than constructive changes.  When we talk about improvement, people can feel threatened and become defensive, but this shouldn’t make us avoid it altogether.  If people aren’t aware of how they are coming across and how they performed, feedback is important to give. 

Jesus loved his time in Bethany, but he didn’t hold back from giving Martha some feedback on her complaint that Mary should help her in the kitchen!  Martha, my beloved Martha. Why are you upset and troubled, pulled away by all these many distractions? Are they really that important? Mary has discovered the one thing most important by choosing to sit at my feet. She is undistracted, and I won’t take this privilege from her.”  Luke 10:41-42

4. Give the specific next step.  People are motivated when we give a sense of belief and encourage them that they can improve by taking the next step.  So our job is to outline what that next step is and show them what they can do to improve. 

Peter was discouraged after having fished all night and caught nothing.  Jesus came aboard and took them out to the deep water where they made a massive catch of fish.  Peter was astonished at what had taken place and it put the fear of God in him.  Jesus feedback to Peter was, ‘follow me and I will make you a fisher of men.’  Peter left his nets immediately and followed Jesus.

5. Be immediate. The human brain learns best by being caught in action. If you wait too long to tell someone that his or her performance needs some adjustment, he or she usually can’t connect with the memory with the detail needed.  Productive feedback requires giving it as soon as possible after the event.  That way, they aren’t second guessing – was that good or ineffective, did I perform well or not?  

Jesus had just praised Peter on having received revelation from the Father regarding understanding that Jesus was the Christ, the son of the living God. But then Jesus goes on to explain that he must suffer, and Peter takes him aside to say that this will never happen. Jesus responds immediately, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  Matthew 16:23

As we grow in maturity, we also grow in grace and have the ability to receive constructive feedback, no matter how it comes to us or from whom it comes.  It’s an important quality to be able to be open to receive any input from anyone and take it to the Lord for translation!

We also have the opportunity of being able to encourage growth and develop others through the feedback we give.  Let’s make our focus to build peoples’ strengths and give specific encouragement for their next steps.

I would be happy to receive your feedback!

Until next month


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