Performance Feedback: Why Were Scared and How Not to Be

Effective communication is not a one-way street. It involves an interaction between the sender and the receiver. The responsibility for this interaction is assumed by both parties. The speaker can solicit feedback and adjust the message accordingly. The listener can summarize what was said for the speaker and continually practice the empathetic process.

Feedback is a major source of information which tells you how you are perceived by others and how your behavior is affecting them. This exchange must exist for true communication to take place. An effective communicator solicits feedback from the receiver in order to check for understanding and to remove as many barriers from the process as possible. The communication process is complex, but giving and receiving feedback, especially critical feedback, ranks as the most personal and threatening aspect of all. This is unfortunate, as most research on motivation suggests that feedback is one of the biggest motivators for change.

This in mind, some people are still reluctant to receive feedback for a number of reasons:
1. damaging self-image
2. causing defensiveness
3. creating vulnerability
4. telling us statements we do not want to hear
5. exposing feelings which are uncomfortable

Interestingly, there are similar concerns for those giving the feedback:

1. uncovering emotions both people do not wish to deal with
2. exposing someone else's vulnerability
3. causing defensiveness or anger, thus hindering communication
4. People like to hear what is consistent with their own views and resist ideas contrary to their belief structures. As professionals, if we knew we were doing something ineffectively, wouldn't we automatically try to improve the deficiency?

5. Criticism implies that we could be wrong. It takes an open mind to be able to listen to an opposing view.

To be truly effective, feedback must be seen as an interaction in which both parties have needs that must be taken into account. Most people do not have the opportunity to learn feedback skills. We more or less give critical feedback in the same way as we get it, roughly or ineptly, and that makes us fear it even more.

In order to alleviate fear associated with feedback, it is important to understand what effective feedback consists of. Effective critical feedback is information that: may be heard by the receiver and not cause defensiveness, may cause pain or conflict but keeps the relationship intact and open, supports the feedback process for future interactions, does not assume that the giver is right and the receiver is wrong, and has give and take; is an invitation to interact.

Copyright AE Schwartz & Associates All rights reserved. For additional presentation materials and resources: ReadySetPresent and for a Free listing as a Trainer, Consultant, Speaker, Vendor/Organization: TrainingConsortium

CEO, A.E. Schwartz & Associates, Boston, MA., a comprehensive organization which offers over 40 skills based management training programs. Mr. Schwartz conducts over 150 programs annually for clients in industry, research, technology, government, Fortune 100/500 companies, and nonprofit organizations worldwide. He is often found at conferences as a key note presenter and/or facilitator. His style is fast-paced, participatory, practical, and humorous. He has authored over 65 books and products, and taught/lectured at over a dozen colleges and universities throughout the United States.

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