Blogs by InnovatorsBox®


Originally published in: Forbes

Giving and receiving feedback is hard. Despite good intentions, we’ve hurt others and we’ve been discouraged by others. Words are powerful.

Maya Angelou said, “People will never forget how you made them feel.”

I’ve experienced this myself — and continue to do so. While I love collecting feedback as a way to help me improve, I’ve also had moments when feedback makes me feel attacked or hugely misunderstood. I intellectually know I shouldn’t take it personally and should focus on the objective learning opportunity. But I always wonder how we can be more graceful in the way we give and receive feedback so we can avoid feeling like we are on an emotional roller coaster.

Is it the receiver’s fault for not objectively hearing great advice shared with good intention? Is it the giver’s fault for not sharing feedback in a more thoughtful or sensitive manner? Here are three points that got me curious about how we can rethink the art of feedback exchange.

1. Empathy 

See things from the other person’s perspective before reacting. Give the benefit of the doubt first.

• Why do you feel it is important to share this feedback now?

• How will your message come across to this person if you share it now?

As my friend says, “Commenting is easier than creating.” We often say things without considering what the person on the other end may be going through. Before sending that long, passive-aggressive email about why someone was late to a meeting, what if we checked in with our colleague to see if everything is ok? Before talking about all the things you disliked about the conference, what if we asked why these areas felt lacking to us or if we considered the constraints and challenges the event organizers were facing? When we come from the assumption “I know this person has good intentions,” our willingness to hear different opinions opens up.

2. Intentions

Acknowledge that our feedback or our reaction is rooted in our lens, not theirs. Ask if your intention to share is selfish or selfless.

• Why am I feeling this way about the opinion he/she has of ____?

• Why am I feeling this way about ____ and feeling the urge to share my reactions?

I explored these very questions after I became angry at a conference host who organized a gathering. I felt like his efforts were fake — that the way he was organizing the community event felt selfish and top-down driven, instead of community-driven. A group of us went across the street after the event to discuss our concerns over coffee. We realized our anger was the result of the fact that we care deeply about authentic community building and that we’ve seen too many leaders in the past who don’t walk their talk. We judged our host harshly because we thought he was like them, too. While he’s not perfect (none of us are), we recognized that he’s human and that his intentions were in a good place. This experience taught me how important it is to seek to understand the full picture before I share my opinions — why am I feeling this, why do I care and how would sharing this help versus letting me just feel heard?

I think about this scenario since I’ve begun to speak and write more regularly. Despite my good intentions, I’ve upset some people. I’ve come to realize how important it is to first understand where they are coming from. I can’t control what they say, but I can be curious about why they felt it and how I might communicate differently. In some cases, the comments are hurtful. I try to focus on healing, processing and remembering that each instance of negative feedback is a gift of learning. I can choose to embrace it or ignore it because it is one opinion out of many that I’m collecting to grow and be a better person.

3. Actionability

What change are you hoping to see as a result of this conversation? Tying the loop back to future improvement and understanding will help both parties look forward.

• What are you hoping to accomplish by discussing the feedback he/she shared with you?

• What are you hoping to accomplish by giving this feedback to him/her now?

Feedback is exchanged to address areas where we can improve. Your conversation should focus on how both parties channel this into a positive learning moment and move forward with a strong solution. For example, when you learn that your colleague felt unsupported by being left alone with the client, can you make the necessary schedule changes to be at the next meeting? Action steps should be co-created because the behavior of both parties is likely causing the need to have this tough conversation. When we show that we are willing to put in the effort to change, we are likely able to make room for improvement.

In the end, intention is key (registration required): You start with good intention, and you trust that the other is responding in good intention. At work, we feel most validated when we are appreciated and understood. Avoiding the temptation to use social media to criticize or give negative feedback can be difficult, but it is more compassionate and productive to have a raw and honest conversation in person — not in a group, not via email, but 1:1 over the video, phone or in person. You can still walk away disagreeing but will do so in a respectful and appreciated manner. As Kim Scott said in her book Radical Candor, “The way you ask for criticism and react when you get it goes a long way toward building trust — or destroying it.”

About the Author

Picture of Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang, Founder, and CEO of InnovatorsBox® and Author of Rethink Creativity is transforming today’s workforce through the power of creativity. She helps companies rethink culture, leadership, and team development by making creativity practical and relatable regardless of industry or job title. She has worked with clients worldwide including Fortune 500 companies, higher education, government, and nonprofits. Monica’s work has been recognized by The White House, Ashoka Changemakers, National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Prior to InnovatorsBox®, Monica was a nuclear nonproliferation policy expert. She holds an M.A. from SAIS Johns Hopkins University in Strategic Studies and International Economics and a B.A. from Boston University.

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