Feedback (Acknowledgement)

Feedback is a key part of acknowledgement which drives our happiness. This is linked to the Emotional brain system in our neuroscience model.

If you've just landed on this page, we recommend reading our introduction to brain systems and the neuroscience themes for more context. Otherwise, read on for everything you need to know about how feedback drives employee happiness and why it is so important in the workplace.

Acknowledgement - Feedback

Feedback is data, and everything can be feedback if we’re looking. Body language, how we converse and respond to each other is all feedback data. For example, if you are speaking with someone whose arms are folded, they are silently communicating feedback with their body language. This feedback exists all around us.  

Be Mindful Of The Power Dynamics 

The more power you have, the less people will proactively give you feedback. And the feedback you do receive will exist at either end of the spectrum, from a place of anger or extreme joy. The truly useful feedback usually doesn’t get intentionally shared. 

As a boss or CEO, you may believe you can accept any and all feedback from your team. But ultimately, you pay these people - so this will be in the subconscious and no matter how much psychological safety you have created, there needs to be a way people can give feedback anonymously as well as face-to-face.

There can be an element of fear because you, as the boss, have some level of control in their life. If you don't like the feedback they deliver, you could reprimand them or even fire them. So when asking and receiving feedback, be aware that the power dynamic exists (no matter how much of a flat structure you believe you have) and feeds across everything in your organisation.  

Acknowledge The Differences

You may feel like you’re doing everything within your power to create psychological safety within your team. The truth is that you are interacting with people whose experience in the workplace may have been harmed by someone in a similar position in the past. This is where feedback and acknowledgment are linked.

When you acknowledge this difference in experiences, you become inviting - you can co-create with your people on an individual level and find the best method for them to give and receive feedback. It takes time and hard work to create an environment where people feel comfortable giving and receiving feedback.

All Feedback Is Not Equal

Feedback is a gift. It can be quite hard to hear sometimes but can also shape and help you to grow into the best version of yourself. But all feedback is not equal. It is important to acknowledge the relationship and limitations of those giving you feedback. You should consider what you know about that person, their life experiences, and the relevance of the feedback they are giving. Feedback from a stranger will be taken very differently than feedback from a mentor.

Understand Your Feelings

When receiving feedback, pay attention to your feelings. For example, if you are a woman whose male boss says you are too silent in meetings and he wants to hear more from you - this feedback may make you feel dismissive or defensive. Tune into those feelings to recognise why you reacted this way. Perhaps this meeting is largely full of men, and as a woman you may not feel welcome to show up and express yourself in that space. So before you can even speak up, you have to overcome the barrier of feeling like an outsider in the meeting, and this may be the cause of your defensiveness. These feelings need to be addressed before the feedback can be applied.

To Ask Or Not To Ask?

In situations where we are giving feedback, we often say, “can I give you some feedback?” You are essentially asking for consent before you deliver your thoughts. The trouble with this is it feels impossible to say ‘no’ - even if they don’t want to hear it, they feel they must say ‘yes’. 

However, when we make the assumption that it's impossible to say no to feedback, then we are assuming consent. And if we hold the power in that relationship, that assumed consent could be really damaging. Imagine you’re at a cafe with just a little bit of tea left in your cup. There is a big difference between the server asking, “can I take that?” versus just swiping it away. By asking if they can take your cup, they are asking for your consent rather than just assuming you are done. 

In strong relationships, feedback can be more free-flowing. There may not be a need to get consent every time. But it is simply good etiquette. We shouldn’t stop saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ just because we have a good rapport with someone. But by asking, you are creating the opportunity for someone to say ‘no.’

If you have to give feedback and a “no” wouldn't be acceptable, then you should phrase it differently, in a way that it might be difficult to hear. Such as “I really need to give you feedback,” “are you in a space to hear it,” or “should we go somewhere else?” You are being clear that you are sharing feedback, and the person doesn’t have a choice in hearing it - but you are giving them as much choice as possible in where, how, and when the feedback will be delivered. 

Feedback Avoiders

There will always be people who aren’t open to feedback and it will just bounce off them. Worse, they’re usually reluctant to change the circumstances around the feedback. Since everything is data, look at the data about that person. Acknowledge this person has avoided or shot down feedback in the past. Name your experience of what happened when you gave them feedback. Then get curious about why they have reacted that way. 

Consider questions like: 

  • Am I doing anything that is making it difficult for them to respond to my feedback? 

  • Why is this feedback (from my perception) not being received? 

  • Is there anything about me or the situation that can help unlock the reasons for their avoidance?

Feedback Done Right

Feedback needs to be grounded, either in growth or wellbeing. If it's not grounded in either of those things, then all you are doing is moaning and complaining. If you have a colleague who really wants to make an impact with their presentation and you suggest they start it differently, this is about their growth. This type of feedback is grounded in their need for growth, safety, and care.

Feedback needs to be specific. It should be named and acknowledged - this is critical. Imagine your life as a football pitch - these are your experiences, feelings, beliefs and focus. You can walk to the edge of that pitch but will only be able to see a small part of your colleague’s pitch. You can’t see their entire field, their lives, experiences etc. Establishing those boundaries and limitations creates a frame for feedback to be safe. 

All About Perceptions

Feedback is often given from a place of how you perceive another person. Our perception of others is based on their external behaviours multiplied by our interpretation of that person. You think you know someone extremely well, but in reality, you only know what they choose to share and externalise. You are still using your own interpretation of that person, which is biased by your own experience of the world.

Name and frame these limitations by acknowledging that what the person telling you about themselves is true for them. It is not up to you to decide whether it's accurate or not. You need to take that seriously and not try to apply your own language to them.

**This is an excerpt from the Happiness and Humans Podcast with the Founder of Flockist, Karen Robinson. Listen to the full podcast here.

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