Give out gifts along the way
At a two-day retreat sponsored by the company I work at, ten employees including myself did a powerful workshop on feedback.
We were each asked to pick one or two participants in the group who we would like to provide feedback to. Once we had selected the member/s, we had to write down a few lines of the feedback that we would like to provide them with.
We were then asked to walk to the front of the room and read it out loud without sharing the person’s name, and then look at each member in the eye once we were done. It was nerve wracking.
Today, feedback seems to have this positive spin around it. We seem to differentiate between feedback and criticism when really, they are the same thing.
Some of the feedback that went around the room was, “I feel like you are always trying to be right.” “You don’t seem like you want to be here.” “I feel like I can’t trust you.” “You live for other people.” “You always play the victim.” “It bothers me that you portray yourself as weak and insecure.”
It is evident, the feedback that was provided was not garbed in flowery language. It was straight and to the point.
What made this exercise even more nerve wracking was that we were all colleagues. This was a two-day retreat, but we were going to spend a lot of time outside of that boardroom working together in the future. Some of us were even directly reporting to other members in the room.
Once we had shared our feedback indirectly, the next step was to read out the feedback again, but this time, directly to the person who it was about.
This was not mandatory. It was only if we were willing to share it directly. It was also a pre-requisite that before this part of the exercise started, anyone who did not want to have their feedback read out loud to them could leave the room.
Every person in the group elected to provide feedback to the person directly and no one left the room.
We had to provide and receive our feedback in front of everyone else. Receiving feedback when you are 1:1 is one thing but receiving it in front of a room full of people is an extremely vulnerable experience for both members.
It is safe to say that the atmosphere in the room was tense, but there is no other place I would have rather been.
It was amazing to see how feedback was shared and received. It hurt, it raised questions, confusion, and sadness. It created trust, broke down walls, and allowed us to see one another as we really were. Tears were shed, stories were told, and the feeling of love and support in the room reverberated.
Here is what we learned:
1. Feedback is a gift you give to people.
2. Providing feedback is much kinder then believing someone is too fragile to handle it.
3. Believing someone is too fragile to handle feedback leads us to deal with them in passive aggressive ways.
4. Passive aggressiveness is a form of violence.
5. Passive aggressive people are violent people.
6. Feedback can provide insights and set people free from patterns of behavior or beliefs that they might be blind to.
Feedback is a gift, but there are certain rules around it:
1. Recognition should be provided publicly. Feedback must be provided privately (In this case it was a workshop where we were seeing the power of it on full display. This is not how we should share feedback unless it is in a similar format, at a workshop, with trained facilitators).
2. You must ask the person if they are open to receiving feedback (They could be having a bad day and may not be ready for it at that time. You must respect this).
3. No sandwiching. Sandwiching is a tactic of providing feedback where we say something nice, provide criticism, and the say something nice again. It usually sounds like, “you do this well, but that really shit, but everything else well.” It always comes across as disingenuous and insincere.
4. Sandwiching is a tactic we use to make ourselves feel more comfortable when providing feedback. It is completely self-serving and doesn’t “soften the blow,” for the receiver.
5. Don’t beat around the bush. Be prepared with what you want to say, be clear, and concise. The other person should walk away understanding the message loud and clear.
My personal experience from the feedback that I received at the retreat changed how I show up and who I show up as. I will always be grateful to those who shared with me their truths and did so with strength and sincerity.
Feedback is a gift you give people. And if you are open to receiving it, the world can be your clam.