It takes two to feedback
Nicolas Moreno and Shreyans Jain discuss a new approach to give and receive more constructive feedback.
Feedback is normally spoken about in a unidirectional way. Mostly, we want to learn how to give it to others – of course, we always find and share things for others to improve (just joking, we know there’s a lot of positives being praised as well). Often, we even want to learn how to better receive what others share with us. In contrast, much less is said and read about the fact that to make the most out of feedback, we don’t just need to prepare ourselves to give and receive it: our counterpart also needs to be prepared, and in full-sync. You may think of other examples in life where success relies on two parties being ready and synchronised, or it simply doesn’t work. Table tennis for instance (what example were you thinking of?)
Feedback or Feedforward?
In our high-paced startup, where a small team is continuously working shoulder to shoulder towards ambitious goals, we have found this realisation to be critical for our performance (and peace of mind). Hence, we decided two of us (of course!) should write an article together and spread one of our key learnings.
Since we acknowledged the importance of mutual readiness and alignment, our meta-conversations about feedback have become as important as the feedback we share. Under what conditions is the other person more receptive? Full-disclosure or sugar-coated? Infrequent but intense or perhaps often and in small doses? What objective does the other person have? Improving downsides or building confidence in upsides? Becoming a more productive professional or improving work-life balance? These are all extremely valuable questions. With them, your feedback will be received in the way you intended it to and help your colleague learn about themselves, derive action points and grow – and you will enjoy the same benefits. We often talk about how it shouldn’t be feedback, but feedforward – ultimately, it’s supposed to help everyone improve, not look backwards and feel shame.
Through having these conversations, we have developed a more caring, effective and tailored way of sharing feedback. For example, one of us always felt uncomfortable sharing negative observations (perhaps about skills that came across as underdeveloped in the other person). It might be a matter of education, values, context – we don’t know, but we all have this kind of bias and personal preferences. Long story short, since we talked about it, we agreed that the person who is sharing needs to double-check that they are doing so with the only intention of helping the other person grow, and the other person needs to always assume so first. People who are ready to get into difficult conversations for the benefit of their colleagues in a caring and considerate way should be proud, not concerned.
If while applying this rule, something still doesn’t feel right, the sharer needs to refrain from sharing until their feelings change: maybe it is simply too early after the fact and things need to cool down, or it isn’t something that really needs improvement (but just a personal preference). Likewise, the receiver needs to flag it if they could not avoid feeling offended or uncomfortable: perhaps a rough delivery or a topic that is too personal for them to discuss in a professional context. As a result, since we agreed on this solution, we have both felt better equipped to share tricky feedback on a much more positive note while also enjoying a safer space in which to respond and openly discuss how it felt.
Do this one thing before your next feedback session.
We encourage you to start your next feedback session with two open questions: how has previous feedback worked? Is there any way we could achieve a more harmonious delivery and better results? This not only applies to formal feedback, but also to spontaneous day-to-day conversations, more personal comments at team meetings, etc.
We are convinced that it takes two for feedback to succeed, regardless of hierarchy, background or other differences. Either it flows bi-directionally and in resonance, or it’s not quality feedback. If you are still reading or sharing best practices to give or receive feedback with your colleagues, you might as well sit down with them and ask yourselves “what are the practices that work for us?”
About the authors
Nicolas Moreno de Palma is the Director of Business Development at Volograms. A telecommunications engineer and MBA by education, Nicolas has held positions within large multinational organisations and startups in a wide range of sectors, including Johnson & Johnson, Vodafone and Simprints. He is passionate about ideas that make the best technology accessible for those who need it and will make great use of it.
Shreyans Jain looks at all things Marketing at Volograms. After working at an Ed-Tech startup (later acquired) and unsuccessfully running his own D2C startup, he completed his MBA. Currently, he is exploring the world of social content creation and the creators behind it.