Written by: Elan Thomas

Cartoon people talking on a string phone

Now if this title has got your attention you may be thinking ‘woh there PDW’, there is no need to encourage swearing in the workplace, that’s not very politically correct!! In reading this title you may be thinking the “F” word meant something negative, and your perception is what is taking you down that route…and that’s part of the way most of us are wired.

It’s our judgement, perception and interpretation of messages people give us that can often form a misunderstanding, especially around the “F” word in business…FEEDBACK, which is what this article is all about.

I have decided to write this article because I am passionate about supporting businesses to get this part of their culture right, and hats off to the businesses out there that do. I have also been on the end of the most hurtful feedback many many years ago, and as a certain type of person that I am it took a long time to get over it and understand it.

So when starting a business with my husband Jim 11 years ago, we made it our mantra to do everything in our power to stop these impacts from happening to others. Thus one of the reasons for starting PDW. Having now worked with 1000’s of people throughout my career, I have come to realise that feedback if done well can be one of the most powerful ways we communicate in society, and we see the huge benefits for people who receive it when its delivered in the right way.

Feedback of course can be focussed on something positive, and we know this as praise…or it can be focussed on something corrective or improvement based, and often people experience this as criticism. Either way though, the principles and the ‘golden rules’ are the same.

The outputs from well delivered, well intentioned feedback can leave people feeling euphoric, encouraged, confident, happy & motivated and it enables us to build on our own skills and abilities to either continue to do the same things, or to improve our behaviours or approaches to achieve a greater output…. So my question on the back of this then “why don’t we do more of it??” Again I can factually tell you, with the many businesses we work with that this is not happening enough, and in all fairness and credit to the many businesses we do work with, they will hold up the mirror to understand more about the barriers stopping this culture of great feedback and to then understand further as to how they can turn this around.

Turning the above picture on its head, if feedback is done badly, it can literally destroy a person, you may think this is an over extreme statement but I have sadly witnessed (and may I say too often) the hurt, anger and frustration that poorly delivered feedback can leave behind….. it’s wrecked self-esteem, confidence, and trust… and if you read the book the ‘5 conversations’ you will know those words are key to driving great relationships and happiness at work, and ultimately performance.

However despite all that emotion, you may be reading this and think ‘so what?’…people just need to toughen up and deal with it, get over a few difficult messages? There may be some truth in this of course, but I will challenge that mindset because it isn’t t the difficult messages people can’t deal with, in fact when I deliver the intended message in the right way most people are happy to hear it; it’s when the giver doesn’t take any time to consider the receiver’s perspective and their drivers; it’s when the giver’s intent is not to help the receiver but to ‘score points’ or to elevate their own status, and its often just badly thought out (or not thought out at all) by the giver which usually means the feedback is just full of judgemental language and adjectives about what the person is/is not doing, and what they should be doing differently.

I have had the privilege to listen to the most intellectual, knowledgeable, experienced & result orientated people that you would definitely want in your business, that have sadly received poor feedback. When sharing their experiences, many have informed me that they want to leave their company, or have become less productive, resentful and fundamentally less confident to step out of their comfort zones to grow and improve….. Their viewpoint can often be ( and this is what I have actually heard on multiple occasions ) “what’s the point of working harder” “why should I be more supportive”; “that’s the last creative idea I’m putting on the table”, ” if someone is going to pick fault”, “run you down” “burst your bubble’” or ” humiliate you…”

In these 1 to 1 conversations that I have with people who walk through our doors, having played the role of both the feedback provider and the receiver so as to bring the conversation to life (which is one key part of the behavioural development programmes that we do), the other sad factor is that I know a lot of feedback providers will be totally unaware of the impact their feedback may have had on that person. Sure, they haven’t deliberately got out of bed to make someone miserable, but nevertheless, that’s what the outcome has been. If they had observed the aftermath of their feedback when the recipient was with me during one of our sessions, quite honestly I think most givers would be mortified.

Some of the other reasons behind poor feedback maybe the individual giving the feedback just doesn’t know how to give feedback in the right way. They think they are being helpful to the person they are feeding back to by pointing out the issues they see, but are they pointing out the right things to help benefit themselves, and telling them in a way that demonstrates that the information is coming from the right place? Often not…

Often though the receiver will think (because they are hurt, and frustrated) that this person is out to get them in some way, and only in 1 or 2 extreme cases has this ever been the case. Yet as I said at the start, it’s our judgement and perception that may lead us down the crooked thinking path.

So what are the key messages I would like you take away from this blog…?

If you are going to give feedback that is other than positive, seek out the right way of doing it:- Plan the message you are trying to give and ask yourself why do want to give this feedback

  • Think about the environment and timing of giving the message
  • Ask their view on the world first, they may tell you some or all of what you wanted to say, and listen, be in the moment
  • If you do have to communicate your message, ensure it is clear and focusses on the behaviour you see and hear, not just on your adjective descriptions of it
  • Be sure to help them to understand the IMPACT of their actions (or lack of action) on others and especially themselves…
  • And finally please, please, please put yourself in their shoes and practise the conversation first with someone who will tell how the message is coming across…

Otherwise you may be taking a risk on losing what could be one of the most beneficial assets in your business…