Leadership: 5 Tips for Healthy Feedback

"People know things about you that you don't–that you might not be able to see yourself."

People know things about you that you don’t know. I’m talking about the things people can see about you—your behavior and the work you do—that you might not be able to see yourself.

It’s a vulnerable feeling, isn’t it? But people observe these things about us regardless of whether we acknowledge them, and most of the time they choose to remain in our lives anyway. When we become open to learning what they think about us, their observations can become the greatest gifts in our development.

When people are interviewing at LifeChurch.tv we let them know we operate a high-feedback culture. In fact, we’ve turned down gifted candidates who can’t demonstrate the ability to accept and learn from feedback because we know they won’t be comfortable in our organization or capable of the continual development needed for the long haul. Helpful, constructive feedback has been instrumental in our growth as an organization and as leaders.

But helpful, constructive feedback isn’t about an Olympic-style scorecard following every project or interaction. Giving the kind of feedback that results in real growth is a skill most of us have to learn.

Here are five tips for healthy feedback.

1. Identify patterns.

Instead of catching someone on an off day, wait until you notice a pattern. (Of course this does not apply to harmful behavior or extreme misconduct.) Once you see three closely connected examples, it’s a great prompt for a coaching conversation: “Hey, I’ve noticed you respond to this situation in a way other people might misinterpret. Here’s a different approach …” You’re not looking for gotcha evidence, but supporting examples that lead to self-awareness. And don’t forget to be on the lookout for positive examples as well: “This is an example of something I’ve noticed you doing consistently that I value.”

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2. Think quality, not quantity.

It’s tempting to equate thorough feedback with effective feedback, but that’s not always the case. If you give a laundry list of 20 observations but only feel strongly about three of them, it’s not likely those three will stand out. Although it requires restraint, feedback is absorbed better when delivered in small, specific doses.

3. Don’t serve yourself.

Good feedback is for the benefit of the person receiving it, not so you can get something off your chest or feel like you’ve done your job. Some people see themselves as straight shooters so they strive to be blunt. You can be really blunt but also really bad at giving feedback. Healthy feedback will contribute to the recipient’s development.

4. Put it in the context of your relationship.

Ideally, feedback will occur within a relationship that has a solid foundation of trust, which gives you the opportunity to share what may be hard to hear. When you’re sharing feedback without that trust level, your words can be misinterpreted. That doesn’t mean you should run away from feedback in those situations, but it might mean you are more sensitive about what you do and don’t know.

5. Make it part of your culture.

Steering a church toward a steady pulse of healthy feedback starts at the top. The leader’s ability to receive, process and integrate feedback in a healthy way sets the tone for the entire team. And it’s important to apply feedback to your organization as a whole, not just individuals.

On an organizational level and on a personal level, it’s important for us to know what’s working and what’s not. Once we experience the value of healthy feedback, we’ll likely find ourselves seeking it out instead of waiting for it.