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Feedback Paradox

The Feedback Paradox: Why We Need It, But Don’t Like It

As an HR professional and coach, my objective behind delving into this topic was to revisit my earliest encounters with personal feedback. Many of us were exposed to feedback during our formative years, often in the form of well-intentioned advice like ‘Please smile, stay positive, and avoid negativity’. It remains an undeniable truth that feedback, regardless of when it is received, has been a catalyst in an individual’s personal and professional growth, empowering them to being themselves. In today’s era of ever-evolving demands and complexities, receiving feedback provides multiple opportunities to not only perceive a situation from different vantage points but also to engage in introspection, thereby fostering a culture of self-improvement. However, creating a culture of feedback excellence requires both givers and receivers to welcome input on personal and professional levels.

Despite this aspiration, statistics reveal a struggle within many workplaces to fully accept and integrate feedback, regardless of its nature.

  • 41% of employees have left their jobs because they felt their voices were not heard.
  • 20% of employees refrain from sharing feedback with employers.
  • Only 10% of employees report feeling engaged after receiving negative feedback, a concerning trend that persists.

While giving feedback might seem straightforward, receiving it is often mixed with challenges. Understanding why individuals hesitate to embrace this improvement recipe involves delving into the barriers blocking this adoption. Based on my experience and perception as an HR professional, here are some of the reasons amplifying the hesitation of receiving feedback.

  • Human nature drives individuals to shield their self-esteem and ego, making feedback ‘not a desirable activity’.
  • Some individuals portray a ‘know it all, do it all’ attitude, hindering growth mindset.
  • Only positive feedback is preferred, and constructive feedback is perceived as a personal attack rather than an opportunity for personal growth.
  • Prior instances of poorly delivered feedback or feedback used against an individual can lead to distrust in the feedback process.
  • Certain cultures or organizations view feedback as a sign of inadequacy or incompetence, leading to a poor feedback culture.

In essence, there’s this uncomfortable feeling about giving constructive feedback, and it’s linked to various reasons. But since feedback can influence an individual’s personal and professional growth, it’s vital to tackle these concerns properly. Here are a few ways to help individuals and organizations change their reservations about feedback into a more welcoming attitude.

How to overcome Resistance to feedback ?

1. Safe Playground :

When looking for advice, is it realistic to expect help from someone you barely know, with few interactions, less connection, and negligible trust? Human nature tends to listen and learn from individuals who make us feel safe being around once trust is built. This highlights the need to create a psychologically safe environment even before starting the feedback journey.

And this safe playground can be built through the bricks of open communication, clear expectations, transparency in work, and confidential dialogues exchange. This makes sure that both the giver and the receiver in the feedback loop do not feel ashamed for sharing thoughts, asking questions, expressing worries, or admitting their mistakes. Also, they will not enter the conversation with preconceived ideas that the dialogue will lead to embarrassment or rejection. Instead, they will focus on the common aim of getting better, seeing feedback as the way to grow.

2. Navigating the Details :

From self-education to guiding employees through feedback, having the right information from the start is crucial for kickstarting procedures, making informed decisions, and strategy development. Just like the saying ‘God is in the details,’ effective dialogue exchanges between two individuals require comprehensive data collection from colleagues, peers, and the work environment.

I recommend leveraging tools like 360-degree feedback platforms for a well-rounded perspective on an individual’s performance, potential, and outcomes. This data-driven approach, including diverse viewpoints, helps in crafting Individual Development Plans (IDPs) free from any biases. It’s not just about givers obtaining details; receivers also gain valuable insights into how they are perceived, fostering a culture of improvement, resulting in transparent discussions that start by embracing a detailed approach from the outset.

3. Set the Stage :

We have all been through situations where the feedback we received seemed more focused on our past scorecard than our current performance. Sometimes, past achievements or setbacks can blur recent efforts, making it hard for the giver to see progress. Even the previous conflicts between manager-employee can block the focus of current requirements, leading to biased, ineffective feedback dialogues.

Having an effective feedback dialogue that spotlights our current achievements and issues requires both the giver and receiver to engage in a loop that’s relevant to the present demands. And, it starts with creating a simple list of organizational goals, recent wins, observed behaviors, missed duties, and proposed targets that can keep the conversation centered on the ‘now.’ Being open and honest during this conversation, clarifying that it’s about the present, not past conflicts, leads to a constructive feedback session, ensuring both parties are genuine and transparent in their communication.

4. The Genesis of Feedback :

I always wondered why organizations started these feedback initiatives. Then I understood that they began feedback programs to help meet mutual goals and improve employee performance, keeping them motivated and guiding them towards leadership roles. It is all about moving employees beyond basic tasks to focus on their behavior, attitude, long-term plans, vision, relationships, and career growth, not just their daily routines to ensure success.

But often, feedback gets stuck in reviewing Excel or PowerPoint tasks. Drawing insights from my decade-long HR journey, I’ve learned that effective feedback involves evaluating both individual and team performance, aligned with their aspirations. For this, both giver and receiver should adopt a specific, actionable approach centered on behaviors, ensuring constructive feedback exchanges rather than mere routines. When conflicts arise, the responsibility falls on both sides to handle them maturely by reflecting on personal errors, appreciating strengths, and fostering growth without creating tension.

5. Simple & Strategic Feedback :

Giving feedback involves a delicate balance, and quotes like “Your performance was the best among everyone, and you’ll definitely get a promotion” can lead to overconfidence. Although the aim is improvement, being overly negative or sugar coating might not help achieve the desired results. It’s crucial for both managers and employees to engage in a constructive dialogue without being excessively critical or defensive.

To ensure a healthy feedback dialogue, both parties can engage in straightforward, simple communication that includes areas of growth and improvement. Employing the sandwich technique, where positive feedback is provided, followed by constructive, and ending with positive reinforcement, creates a layered approach. When the employees receive it, this allows them to appreciate the acknowledgment of achievements and at the same time focus on areas that need improvement. This strategic recipe makes the feedback session engaging, fostering a learning environment where both parties are immersed in understanding and supporting each other’s growth.

In 2023, we faced a junk of uncertainties, challenges, and innovations, especially with the involvement of AI-driven automation in the talent landscape. But, despite these advancements, feedback initiatives still relied more on words than on truly embracing new concepts, as supported by many studies.

But the future of feedback now calls for a shift beyond just going through annual details, and predicting how well the workforce and teams will perform ahead. This needs the elimination of the feedback paradox, which might be the first obstacle stopping this growth and effective feedback exchange. Therefore, organizations need to invest in their workforce to develop a mindset that welcomes feedback rather than fearing or avoiding it. These changes will not happen overnight but taking one step at a time can at least yield some progress for the future.

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