Separately, these words are harmless. But when strung together by a boss or manager, they’re frightening. Our minds race wondering whether we’re in trouble, and we jump to conclusions about what we did wrong. But why? Why does such a simple question inspire fear in people?
In today’s work environment, feedback has somehow adopted a negative connotation. If a manager wants to talk for a minute, we immediately assume it’s because we messed up and that there’s an awkward conversation ahead. After all, feedback and mistakes go hand in hand, right?
Wrong. Feedback and growth do.
Consider this: 98% of employees will fail to be engaged in their work when managers give them little or no feedback (OfficeVibe, 2015). No engagement means no results, no productivity, and ultimately, no growth. So even if we’re sometimes nervous or afraid to receive feedback, we’re stuck without it.
Personally, I have high hopes for my career at HubSpot. But without a healthy dose of feedback from the people around me every now and then, I’ll never get there. Having my strengths and weaknesses sized up is motivating, and it gives me the direction I need to move forward. There’s always room to improve, so instead of thinking of feedback as the bearer of bad news, we should see it as a powerful tool in helping us grow and get better at our craft.
Motivated People Mean Motivated Teams
Andrew Rodwin, Director of Engineering here at HubSpot, has a great deal to say about feedback, and much of it boils down to a simple fact: Teams are most productive when people are most helpful. To borrow his illustration, imagine a great banquet hall loaded with delicious food. But, all the patrons at the banquet table have stiff arms that cannot bend at the elbow; thus, in order to eat, the guests need to feed each other.
That’s what feedback looks like.
It’s not about poking holes in one another’s performance, nitpicking on bad habits, or a quarterly peer-evaluation filled with “you need to do [x] more”. It’s about collaborating and helping one another reach goals and the goals of the team. That’s why giving feedback isn’t just a manager’s responsibility; it’s on all of us to give our coworkers constructive feedback.
So, if we all agree that feedback is the breakfast of champions, then why do we still dread it? Because, giving and getting feedback is hard; it’s tricky to approach a personal conversation professionally. And while I have yet to master the art of feedback, I’ve realized it doesn’t have to be painful or uncomfortable. I’ve been at both the giving and receiving end quite a few times and have learned a thing or two about making the conversation easier and more productive for everyone.
Giving Feedback: A Balancing Act
We all want to be great at our jobs. But how can we get there if we don’t know what great looks like? That’s why Andrew highlighted the importance of striking a balance between positive and critical feedback. Show me a workplace where everyone is only told what they are doing wrong, and I’ll show you a workplace that’s unmotivated and unproductive. On the flip side, over-praising can be just as ineffective. How will we ever improve if we’re always told we’re doing a good job? Steering clear of constructive criticism altogether might feel easier at first, but it does your colleagues a disservice. Not to mention, constant praise can quickly go from motivating to insincere.
That’s why it’s crucial to find a balance. Luckily, we’re not totally in the dark on figuring out what that balance looks like. Astudy on the impact of employee feedbackfound that the ideal ratio of positive to constructive feedback is 5.6:1. While getting that ratio down pat may be unrealistic (and impractical), the essential takeaway is that praise is just as important in helping someone grow as critical feedback is. The conversation is not only more comfortable for you when you can compliment your colleagues, but it’s also more valuable for them. It’s a win-win.
Getting Feedback: Keep It Cool
With the balance of good and not-so-good feedback, there will inevitably be times we hear constructive criticism that’s hard to stomach. But it’s important not to get defensive. While it’s up to our manager or colleague to read the room and broach the topic tactfully, we’re responsible for taking feedback professionally.
This used to be (and honestly, sometimes still is) really hard for me to do. One way I’ve practiced taking feedback with humility is by remembering that it’s a conversation, not a lecture.
When you’re told of instances where you could improve or of a missed opportunity, instead of shutting down, handle it gracefully: Ask questions if you need more tactical advice, make it clear that you understand the feedback, and above all, say “thank you”.
This doesn’t always come easy, and it doesn’t mean you’ll always leave the conversation feeling like a million bucks, but it helps put the feedback in perspective. It’s a two-way road and collaborative effort in your growth. So instead of thinking of yourself as in the hot seat, remember that you’re part of driving the conversation.
The next time you hear the words, “Hey, have a minute to chat?” don’t flinch; jump right in. Feedback is not only important to motivate and grow a team, but also to build and grow your own career and skill set. Whether you’re on the receiving or the giving end, embrace feedback, don’t fear it. It may prove to be one of the best tools you have to develop in your role and to help others do the same in their own careers.
Originally published Jul 7, 2016 2:37:41 PM, updated January 18 2023