Embracing Honest Feedback

Discover the power of honest feedback in personal and professional growth. Learn why transparent insights are crucial, how to give and receive effective feedback, and how to foster a culture of continuous improvement in your workplace.

Feedback is key to growing and improving. Without it, we’re like drivers without directions. Honest feedback helps us know what we’re doing well and what we need to fix. In this post, we’ll explain why feedback is important, how to give and take it, and how to make it a regular part of work.

But why?

Imagine trying to drive a car with no mirrors.

You can’t see what’s behind you, what’s next to you, or if you’re even on the road.

It’s dangerous and frustrating.

This is what it’s like to work without feedback.

Without clear, honest feedback, we don’t know if we’re doing things right or if we need to change course.

Why Honest Feedback Matters

Employee performance improves when organizations foster a culture of peer feedback and capture how employees add value to other’s work.

Honest feedback is like a set of mirrors for your professional journey.

It shows you what you’re doing well and where you need to improve.

Here’s why it’s so important:

  1. Clarity: Clear feedback helps you understand your strengths and weaknesses. It tells you what you’re doing right so you can keep doing it. It also points out areas for improvement so you can focus your efforts there.
  2. Growth: We can’t grow if we don’t know where to grow. Honest feedback gives us the information we need to improve our skills and performance. It pushes us to be better and helps us reach our full potential.
  3. Trust: When feedback is honest and direct, it builds trust. It shows that the person giving the feedback cares about your development. This trust creates a healthy, open environment where everyone feels safe to share their thoughts and ideas.
  4. Performance: Feedback helps improve performance. By knowing what to work on, we can make the necessary changes to do our jobs better. This leads to better results for us and for the organization.

How to Give Honest Feedback

Giving honest feedback can be tricky. It requires a balance of kindness and directness.

Here’s how to do it right:

  1. Be Specific: Vague feedback is not helpful. Instead of saying “You need to improve your communication skills,” say “In the last meeting, you interrupted several times. It’s important to let others finish their thoughts before you respond.”
  2. Focus on Behavior, Not Personality: Honest feedback should be about actions, not about the person. Instead of “You’re too bossy,” say “When you give instructions, it sometimes comes across as demanding. Try to be more collaborative.
  3. Use “I” Statements: This helps to make the feedback less accusatory. For example, “I noticed that the project was submitted late. Can we discuss what happened and how we can avoid this in the future?
  4. Balance Positive and Negative: Start with something positive, but still a honest feedback, then move to what needs improvement. This makes the feedback easier to accept. For example, “You did a great job on the report. However, I think you can improve on meeting deadlines.
  5. Offer Solutions: Don’t just point out problems. Offer suggestions for improvement. This shows that you’re invested in their growth. For example, “You missed the deadline. Let’s work on a schedule that helps you manage your time better.

The History of Honest Feedback from Kim Scott – Quoted from the book “Radical Candor”:

Shortly after I joined Google, I gave a presentation to Google’s CEO and founders on the performance of AdSense.

Despite the fact that AdSense was doing great, and even though my boss was sitting next to me in a show of support, I felt nervous.

Luckily, we had a good story to tell: the business was growing at an unprecedented rate.

As I looked around the room, I caught the eye of CEO Eric Schmidt, whose head had snapped out of his computer when I’d declared how many new customers had signed up in the past month.

I’d distracted him from his email—a triumph! “How many did you say?” he asked. I repeated the number, and he almost fell out of his chair.

I couldn’t have asked for a better reaction. After I finished, I felt that mix of euphoria and relief that follows a successful presentation.

My boss (Sheryl Sandberg) was waiting for me by the door, and I half expected a high five.

Instead, she asked if I’d walk back to her office with her. I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. Something hadn’t gone well. But what?

“You are going to have an amazing career here at Google,” Sheryl began. She knew how to get my attention—I had three failed start-ups under my belt and badly needed a win. “And your ability to be intellectually honest about both sides of an argument, not just your own, bought you a lot of credibility in there.”

She mentioned three or four specific things I’d said to illustrate her point. I’d been worried that I wasn’t arguing my points vehemently enough, so this was welcome news to me. “I learned a lot today from the way you handled those questions.”

This didn’t feel like mere flattery—I could tell from the way she stopped and looked me in the eye that she meant it. She wanted me to register that something I’d been worried about being a weakness was actually a strength.

This was interesting, but I wanted to file it away to think about later. That nagging feeling persisted in my stomach. There was an axe waiting to fall here. What I really wanted to know was, what had I done wrong? “But something didn’t go well, right?”

Sheryl laughed. “You always want to focus on what you could have done better. Which I understand. I do, too. We learn more from failure than success. But I want you to focus for a minute on what went well, because overall it really did go well. This was a success.”

⁠⁠I listened as best I could. Finally, she said. “You said ‘um’ a lot. Were you aware of it?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “I know I say that too much.” Surely she couldn’t be taking this little walk with me just to talk about the “um” thing.

Who cared if I said “um” when I had a tiger by the tail?

“Was it because you were nervous? Would you like me to recommend a speech coach for you? Google will pay for it.”

“I didn’t feel nervous,” I said, making a brushing-off gesture with my hand as though I were shooing a bug away. “Just a verbal tic, I guess.”

“There’s no reason to let a small thing like a verbal tic trip you up.”

“I know.” I made another shoo-fly gesture with my hand.

Sheryl laughed. “When you do that thing with your hand, I feel like you’re ignoring what I’m telling you. I can see I am going to have to be really, really direct to get through to you. You are one of the smartest people I know, but saying ‘um’ so much makes you sound stupid.”

Now that got my attention.

Sheryl repeated her offer to help. “The good news is, a speaking coach can really help with the ‘um’ thing. I know somebody who would be great. You can definitely fix this.”

How to Receive Honest Feedback

Receiving honest feedback can be just as challenging as giving it.

Here’s how to handle it well:

  1. Listen: Don’t interrupt or get defensive. Listen to what the person is saying and try to understand their perspective.
  2. Ask Questions: If something isn’t clear, ask for more details. This shows that you’re interested in improving.
  3. Reflect: Take some time to think about the feedback. Reflect on how you can use it to improve your performance.
  4. Take Action: Feedback is useless if you don’t act on it. Make a plan to work on the areas that need improvement.
  5. Thank the Giver: Giving feedback isn’t easy. Thank the person for taking the time to help you grow.

Creating a Culture of Honest Feedback

For honest feedback to be effective, it needs to be part of the culture.

Here’s how to create an environment where honest feedback is the norm:

  1. Lead by Example: If you’re in a leadership position, model the behavior you want to see. Give honest feedback and ask for it in return.
  2. Encourage Openness: Make it clear that feedback is welcomed and valued. Encourage everyone to give and receive feedback.
  3. Provide Training: Teach your team how to give and receive feedback effectively. This can help make the process smoother and more productive.
  4. Make It Regular: Don’t wait for annual reviews to give feedback. Make it a regular part of your interactions. This keeps everyone on track and allows for continuous improvement.
  5. Celebrate Improvements: When someone acts on feedback and improves, acknowledge it. This reinforces the value of feedback and encourages others to take it seriously.

Honest feedback is a powerful tool for personal and professional growth.

It provides the clarity and direction we need to improve our performance and reach our goals.

By giving and receiving feedback effectively, we can create a culture of continuous improvement and mutual respect. So, let’s be brave, be honest, and give each other the feedback we need to succeed.

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