Using Feedback Constructively
Susanne: Hi, thanks for meeting with me today. As I mentioned, I wanted to talk with you about the construction plan you submitted yesterday. As usual, the quality of the plan was great. You definitely know what's expected by us and our client, so I want to thank you for that.
Charles: Thanks, it's great to hear feedback like that.
Susanne: Well, I'm glad you feel that way. What I'm a bit more concerned about, though, are the deadlines. You know that we build in extra time between when you submit the plans to us and when we actually present them to the client. However, I see that you often take advantage of that extra time, and you delay submitting your plans – they're sometimes up to a week late. This creates a bottleneck at the engineering approval stage, and I'm starting to hear about it. What can I do to get you back on track, so we return to the more efficient process we had before?
Charles: I'm really sorry. I've been stressed at home lately, and it doesn't help that Les, the new guy, comes to me with questions all the time. Can you give me a week to focus on finishing the plan I'm working on now? With fewer distractions and some time to work out my problems, I know I'll get back on schedule.
Susanne: That's seems reasonable. Thank you for being honest. I'll tell Les to ask Madeline for advice and suggestions for now. Let's get together in a few days to discuss your progress.
This sounds like a "textbook" feedback exchange – just how it's supposed to happen. Susanne expressed her concern, Charles accepted the feedback, they agreed upon a solution, and they have a date for follow-up.
However, while it seems ideal, we don't know how well it actually worked. And if the results of many feedback sessions are any indication, there may be less positive change than we would hope.
Have you ever been part of a conversation like that? Chances are that you've observed that people (possibly yourself!) do one of two things when receiving feedback:
- They accept the negative part of the feedback, but try to explain it or justify it (or decide that the person giving the feedback is wrong, so the comments are dismissed entirely).
- They focus on the positive, and use it to reinforce what they already know to be true.
In either case, the feedback often fails to achieve the desired result. Rather than starting the process of self-examination to understand how their behavior needs to change, people continue to do what they were doing before, without making any major shift or correction.
The feedback matrix*, as shown below, is a useful tool that helps with self-exploration. It encourages you to...