Is Feedback really a gift?

Only if you accept that poison can also be a gift, then the answer is yes, otherwise it is a big no.

Now, you may have heard this term many times already: “Feedback is a gift.”

Well, it can be, just like anything else in life. The air we breathe, and the sunshine we enjoy, all can be seen as gifts. Yet, we don’t see them or talk about them as gifts. Because they are not truly personal. They are something that we all mostly equally feel.

So, what can make feedback feel like a gift? The possible answer to that feedback is personalized. It is something that we give based on our perception of the other person. We think about a situation, we come up with thoughts, and then we deliver the feedback.

From this perspective, feedback feels like it should have certain characteristics to be seen as a gift. Those should be:

  • Making the other party feel good
  • Provide a Sense of importance
  • Must be really personalized and well-thought
  • Should not be something unexpected or too much to handle
  • Must be in a timely manner, meaning should not be given without a proper occasion

From everything listed above, feedback feels like it has to be something very well timed and must provide a positive feeling.

Yet, here is the catch. Feedback should not be confused with giving kudos or appraisals. Feedback is the tool that we use to provide a way of improvement. We touch base on things that we think can be improved. Feedback should pave the way for personal growth and growth, well, can be painful.

So, what should the ideal feedback look like?

  • Objective. It is based on facts, not assumptions. Example: “I think you are struggling with your tasks, because of that you should consider getting help.” This is not feedback, this is advice. “I see that your delivery rate dropped by 20% compared to last month. I know how hardworking you are and how much you have accomplished by yourself. Yet, I have the impression that you are hesitant to ask for help. What do you think?” There is a fact and room for improvement. There is an observation made over time about the strength of the person and possible shortcomings as well. It is communicated that this is an impression too about what can be changed and finally giving the direction to other people by asking their opinion on the fact so that they can also participate in the conversation and not feel attacked. It should not be just “I give you something and just take it.” A gift can also be rejected.
  • Well-timed. If you were to receive your birthday gift 3 months after, how would that make you feel? Act as soon as you made enough observations or talk right after the occasion.
    “Your presentation was very well prepared, you did a great job! Still, I am curious why you did not use more images to tell your story. It could have made it clearer for the audience to understand it much better. I had a hard time following all the text myself. What do you think?” Right after the presentation, based on my own impression and feelings, I am coming up with feedback. I am first praising the person because of what they did and then expressing my thoughts and finally asking what they think about it. Feedback can be seen as an invitation to a conversation. The way to improve can not be just done with a few words. Guidance must be necessary or understanding the state of the mind can be crucial.
  • On point. Be straight. Do not try to sugarcoat things and don't use “but” or anything similar in your sentences. Because that simply nullifies everything before it.
    “You did an amazing job collecting all the data, but it lacked the quality.” Alright, so all of my work was basically useless. Was it really? Change it this way: “You did an amazing job collecting all the data, it helped us a lot. On the other hand, we had to spend too much time cleaning it. Maybe next time we can talk about how to get better quality before delivering it. What do you think?” Appraisal there. The point of improvement is there and the invitation/help for improvement is also there.
  • Leaving negatives. I don’t like playing pollyanna and trying to see always the positives. Still, criticism is not encouraging. You can not expect someone to be motivated after hearing how much they have to improve. “You did this, but you could have done this better.” or “your title is this, I expect more from you.” What I hear is, I am not good at my job and I don’t meet your expectations and what I don’t hear is what you really expect from me and how I can get there. Give me a hand, don’t criticize just because you can.

At the end of the day, giving feedback is not that easy. It can really become a challenge to give proper feedback. Also taking feedback can be challenging too. Keep an eye on the environment, and try to understand how the people currently feeling. Are they perceptive? Are they open? Since not every gift is appropriate, every feedback should also be not given.

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I specialize in helping organizations to build functional teams. A hands-off CTO with focus on organizational development in engineering

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Umit Yilmaz Gunes

Umit Yilmaz Gunes

I specialize in helping organizations to build functional teams. A hands-off CTO with focus on organizational development in engineering

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