A few years ago I was working on a joint project with a colleague in a similar role to me within our wider team – we’d allocated out the work we would each complete, and as we were based in different parts of the country we liaised mainly over email. Part way through I sent her some elements of the project that I’d worked on. It was a direct email as I was in a rush to get to a meeting but needed to get her the information. When I returned to my desk a few hours later she’d sent me a message saying simply “thanks for the info – can I call you tomorrow to give you some feedback?”.... I was immediately worried, thinking that I’d offended her with my direct email (she’s a people person, who loves to build rapport and chat), or that I’d stepped on her toes with the work, or perhaps what I’d produced wasn’t up to her standards? Whichever it was, I was sure that it was going to be an awkward conversation and that I’d damaged our working relationship somehow.
The next day came and the phone call wasn’t at all as I’d feared. Her feedback was really positive and we ended up bouncing ideas off each other and improving our original plans. I hadn’t offended her at all, and when I told her about my concerns she laughed and said I needed to stop assuming that feedback would be negative. This really gave me pause for thought. Why did I automatically assume the worst? Why do we think ‘feedback’ is always going to be bad? I’m generally an optimistic person, so why the glass half empty approach? I later read an article that resonated with me, which talked about the concept of feedback being a gift. I realised that my pessimistic assumption about feedback was coming from a lack of self confidence in my ability – a belief that was unfounded, and meant I was taking a very unhelpful approach to other’s opinions on my work. The lightbulb moment was realising that even if feedback was negative, it was actually a really good thing – because it showed me how I could improve – information I would not have had at my disposal had the feedback not been given.
These days I actively ask for feedback whenever I get the opportunity. It always gives me food for thought and a new perspective on my work, and as such supports continuous improvement. As you develop your team, encourage the positive receiving of feedback by following these 3 simple rules:
1) Make sure any negative feedback is constructive: that means making sure there are supportive suggestions on how to improve, not just a statement of things not being good enough.
2) Make sure positive feedback is also given frequently so that individuals can recognise their strengths, not just their areas for development: that means not just saying well done, but letting people know what was particularly good about their work.
3) Pass it on: if you receive positive feedback from another team / manager / customer about your team’s work: don’t keep it to yourself! Let the team know about it, and make sure you position it as feedback not just a thankyou: this will help to reinforce the idea that feedback is not something to be scared of, but instead helps everyone be the best that they can be.