Last week I had two opportunities to witness the power of giving and receiving feedback. Both were in the context of presentation training workshops. In one, I was facilitating a two-day class for LEGO in the art of high engagement presentations (no PowerPoint slides were used in the two days). In the other, I taught nonprofit agency speakers working with The United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut how to use stories in their presentations to create greater impact and emotional connection with their audience.
My philosophy is that feedback is a gift. It’s something that you should seek out and give to others. External feedback helps us grow personally and professionally. Yet most of us avoid it. We follow the old adage: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
But sometimes things need to be said. People need to know what they are doing right as well as what they could be doing differently to be more effective in their personal, professional and even athletic endeavors.
Here are 10 points to help you give and receive feedback more productively
1. Never offer unsolicited feedback. Always get permission first. Ask the question “Are you open to some feedback?” or “Would you like some feedback on that?”
2. It’s best to have rapport with the person that you are giving feedback to. Feedback from a trusted source is easier to take.
3. Balance your feedback with both the positive and the negative. Start with what you liked or noticed as positive. Then serve up your ideas on what they could do differently to make it even stronger.
4. Replace words such as “but” and “however” with the word “and” when you string together your positive and negative feedback. When people hear the word “but” they immediately discount the part that came before it and only hear the negative comments.
5. Whenever possible, give your feedback privately and not in public.
6. Timing is important. Offer your feedback when emotions are neutral. People who are upset often have a hard time hearing the feedback and can become negatively triggered.
7. Use “I messages” when giving your feedback to others. (e.g., “When you do that, I feel _____”) Remember that all feedback is “projection.” You are projecting your view of the world onto someone else. By using an I message, you are taking ownership over your own feelings and observations.
8. Always have positive intentions when giving other people feedback. This is not the time to complain, vent or lash out at other people. Save that for customer service calls (just kidding).
9. You are not obligated to implement any of the feedback. It is not a command. It is a suggestion.
10. Remember to thank the person who is giving you the constructive feedback. They have given you a gift. They are trying to make you better.
The unwritten rules about feedback during the networking process seem to work a little differently than workplace feedback. Usually if someone is doing something that annoys you in networking, you are more likely to simply avoid them and move on. Rather than give them the helpful feedback, you give them the silent treatment. I suppose this is one form of feedback, but not the most constructive kind.
Maybe the reason that we don’t often give feedback during networking is because the relationship is not fully formed yet. Maybe it’s because you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or don’t want to bother with giving feedback that they probably don’t want to hear. After all, it’s not your job to coach and mentor everyone.
If we don’t give each other feedback in networking, how are going to get any better at it?
Here’s an example:
I recently received a phone call from a networking contact whom I had asked to help a friend of mine. He called me to voice his concerns about the 5 attachments she had sent him. He had only asked for her resume, but she sent tons of other stuff. He also found a typo in her cover letter and didn’t feel comfortable forwarding it to the hiring manager. He was a little frustrated and wanted to know how well I knew this young professional.
I thanked him for calling me and told him that this was excellent feedback for my friend. I probed a little bit more to understand his expectations and how he likes to connect with people. I told him that I was seeing the young woman the next day and I would share this feedback with her. I also asked if he would be open to continuing to network with her if she could course correct. He said yes.
The next day I was ride sharing to a conference with this young professional. I shared the feedback with her. She was surprised, but appreciated knowing this. She explained a bit of her rationale in her approach. Then we spent time strategizing about how she could repair the first impression and still build a bridge with this gentleman. It was a constructive discussion. No one’s feelings got hurt. She appreciated the feedback.
Feedback is essential in any relationship
The essence of networking is building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships over time. I don’t think you can have healthy relationships without the give and take of feedback. We need each other as sounding boards. We don’t want to be walking around with spinach in our teeth, our zippers down, or worse yet, making unconscious mistakes that turn off the very people that we are trying to connect with. Perhaps part of our sphere of influence is being able to help people in our networks with things that they struggle with, which might include personal appearance, etiquette, behavior, on-line conduct, presentation on-line and on-paper, etc.
Perhaps feedback is part of the value that we bring to the people in our network.
Your Networking Goal for the Week
Ask for feedback from people in your network this week. Seek out feedback from people that you trust and respect. Don’t be passive by sending out an email survey to your list. Be active and personal by spending quality time face to face or over the telephone.
You might want to give them a heads up that you are seeking feedback. It will be helpful to your feedback partner if you give him/her a specific context for the feedback. For example, you might seek feedback on your performance or style in networking, in business, in your job, on the project, in your presentation, as a client, as a vendor, as a colleague, as a boss, as a friend, as a marriage partner, as a member of a team sports, etc.
Don’t get defensive or hurt if you hear something that perhaps you didn’t want to hear. Use it as a learning tool. It’s part of your development as a professional and as a human being. Remember, feedback is a gift. Learn to receive it and to give it with grace and dignity.
p.s. if you have any feedback for me on this networking tip or the other tips that I have posted in the past, please let me know by emailing me at email@example.com.