June 19, 2020

Receiving Feedback Effectively

How, where, and when you give me feedback is irrelevant – it is the feedback I want and need. Understanding that it is hard to give, I will take it any way I can get it…. I am…safe and I can handle it. If I cannot handle it, it’s on me to build my…stamina. Thank you.

Dr. Robin DiAngelo

For my entire life, I’ve been hearing about how to give feedback effectively. There are books, seminars, cute 3×5 reminder cards…everyone wants to talk about how to give feedback effectively. For good reason too, we want to be able to give feedback to others in a way that they can receive it, that doesn’t damage the relationship, and that causes lasting positive change.

Here’s the problem: in our desire to emphasize the GIVING of feedback most effectively, we’ve neglected to teach that feedback should be RECEIVED, processed, analyzed, and responded to in ANY form given. It’s wonderful when people can give us feedback “properly”. However, there are times that there is too much emotion attached to the feedback being given for the person to give it “properly”. Maybe for that person it’s all the emotional stamina and good will they can muster to yell in your face rather than punch you in the face or walk away. The fact that the feedback is being given so “poorly” should be understood as part of the feedback…this is something that’s very important and this person is hurting a lot. There are times when the person has given the feedback “nicely” so many times, and it’s been ineffective, that they feel maybe it’s time to give it not so nicely and see if that works better. The fact that the feedback method has escalated should be understood as feedback…you haven’t been listening to me and it’s time you paid attention.

Dr. DiAngelo’s quote above is in the context of racism, and rightly so. During the recent riots and lootings, there was a lot of conversation about whether or not they were appropriate. I agree with Martin Luther King, Jr. in my condemnation of riots. However, I’d like to frame the riots in the context of the giving of feedback. The black community has attempted to give us feedback for the last 450 years in a wide variety of different ways. Sadly, most of the time, we’ve either responded negatively or just shrugged it off and gone back to our lives. The riots we saw were an escalation in the method of feedback. However, they were still a controlled escalation. There wasn’t an attempt to murder in mass (which might be completely justified after the past 450 years). For the most part, the rioters weren’t even primarily attempting to hurt people, they were mostly attempting to hurt buildings. As MLK said, this was “the language of the unheard.”

In closing, if you’re GIVING feedback, by all means, use the feedback sandwich, give it in private, speak calmly, etc. If you aren’t familiar with all the rules of feedback giving, google it, there’s plenty of great articles out there. However, if you are on the RECEIVING end of feedback, don’t dismiss it because it’s not packaged properly with a nice pretty bow. It’s hard to give feedback to power. If it’s given as an outburst, listen and receive it. If the back half of the feedback sandwich is missing, get over it and process what they’ve said. Finally, as Dr. DiAngelo said, remember, gratitude. If you’re not literally dead at the end of the feedback, there are worse ways the person could have given you the feedback. Say “thank you” for the feedback. You can still process it and choose what to accept or reject, and how you want to change your behavior, but thank the person for giving you the feedback. It usually would have been much easier to just walk away.

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  1. Paul Swearenginsays:

    It’s interesting to me that, in American history, twice we – the Euro-white Americans – have felt such a sense of injustice that we began protesting, destroying things and ultimately picked up guns and starting shooting people in order to get our way. Today we celebrate those moments as the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. It’s fascinating how people view things through their own prism.

    1. Loren D'Amicosays:

      Ya, very true. We like to think that our revolution was just, while everyone else’s was somehow not. Extremely myopic.

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