Feedback: Are You On The Same Side of the Table?

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Have you ever experienced a derailed feedback attempt, where you felt personally attacked and had to shield yourself in “armor” to fight back tears (or, did you just do that too)?

Done well, feedback is expressed as a function of respect and is not supposed to cause shame, but instead raise an opportunity to engage in productive, balanced conversation and to support and encourage growth in constructive ways. Unfortunately, this approach is not always followed nor consistent.

At this point in life, as middle-aged women we’ve had the opportunity to give and receive difficult feedback many times over (…in the boardroom with clients, with colleagues, over the phone, in the schoolyard, our living rooms, or at the kitchen table with family and friends). In some cases, we may recall these moments as game-changing catalysts… or just plain disasters!

Hopefully, we learned from our experiences and gained wisdom through our own growth. The good ‘ol “Do unto others as you would have done to you” is a staple here, but try as we might there are times when preparation just can’t prepare us for the verbal crusade.

In realizing this, I consider: how can we deliver thoughts, observations, recommendations (and in some cases, feelings) as objectively as possible, and in a concise and respectful way? This topic frequents my dialogue with clients, specifically in changing environments, and my recommended approach has been to first ask permission to give feedback, then follow the process of  “identify – understand – accept”. This includes asking questions to further understand the situation for yourself, and to assist the “receiver” in reaching his or her own conclusions. This approach is a foundation for all forms of feedback (both professional and personal).

Beyond the boardroom, giving and receiving difficult feedback stretches into our personal world on all levels, as mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, and friends. As middle-aged women, our role is to mentor those we lead and raise, and providing successful and critical feedback is an important part of fulfilling leadership and parental roles. So how do we learn from it and do better next time?

While enjoying a morning coffee last week and reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly, I came across her metaphor for feedback: sitting on the same side of the table followed by her Engaged Feedback Checklist. It spoke to me and provided some answers to questions I’d been mulling over the last few months, and I immediately felt the need to share.

*Engaged Feedback Checklist

I know I am ready to give feedback when:

  • I’m ready to sit next to you rather than across from you;
  • I’m willing to put the problem in front of us rather than between us (or sliding it toward you);
  • I’m ready to listen, ask questions, and accept that I may not fully understand the issue;
  • I want to acknowledge what you do well instead of picking apart your mistakes;
  • I recognize your strengths and how you can use them to address your challenges;
  • I can hold you accountable without shaming or blaming you;
  • I’m willing to own my part;
  • I can geniunely thank you for your efforts rather than criticize you for your failings;
  • I can talk about how resolving these challenges will lead to growth and opportunity; and
  • I can model the vulnerability and openness that I expect to see from you.

*Daring Greatly by Brené Brown | Copyright © 2017 Brené Brown, LLC. You can find a printed copy of this checklist  here.

Brown goes on to state that “Vulnerability is at the heart of the feedback process whether we give, receive or solicit feedback. There is no question that feedback may be one of the most difficult arenas to negotiate in our lives – but we must remember that victory is not getting good feedback, avoiding giving difficult feedback, or avoiding the need for feedback. Instead, it’s taking off the armor, showing up, and engaging”.

Vulnerability is key. Whether giving tough love or taking constructive words in return, it’s time to take off our armor, open our minds to growth, ask clarifying questions and strive to sit on the same side of the table. A change in perspective is sometimes just what we need. Shake off the ego and be the example instead. Why? Because growth and learning are a lifelong pursuit. And because we can.

modern middle aged woman

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Photographs by Elise Buckley

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