I was lucky enough to have a fascinating conversation the other day with a friend about the potential crossover between counselling and coaching. A subject very close to my heart through my doctorate studies, it occupied us enthusiastically and animatedly for a little while as we debated differences, similarities, regulation, ethics and styles.
And I reflected on a journey home on a particular topic we discussed – giving feedback.
We’d both been there – in the “training course” where a good-intended person stood at the front of a room and shared ideas, or rather, instructed, about the dos and don’ts of giving feedback. We’ve all heard it before … the feedback sandwich, the nipping in the bud opportunity, the evidence required, the words that apparently are right, and wrong, to use. And some of that advice, no doubt, has been good along the way.
But what really sparked my interest in my chat with my colleague was the fine art of giving feedback on something that people had done well. As simple as that. No sandwich. No kick in the pants about something that hadn’t quite worked out. Just honest, truthful, generous comment on another’s performance, actions, words, behaviour or intent. And we both agreed that this was an act so missing in many people’s repertoire.
We both thought we knew the reason for its absence. Organisational culture, suspicion, low trust, professional ego, unskilled managers, selfish behaviour. We’d both seen it all.
But to give feedback to someone about an achievement, a success, an effort … well, this, we both agreed, was the skill of the person who had, or very nearly had, self-actualised, who was more than well on the way to self-awareness, who was happy in their own skin, and most importantly, who didn’t need to follow up the comment with adding all the glorious things they might have done – in the past, or more recently.
We’d both been in a situation where we’d given genuine, honest, heartfelt feedback of a very positive nature (à la that was wonderful what you just did, thanks for doing that – you’ve really made a difference, I really liked your work etc), and both been the recipients of the incredulous look, the doubting face, the immediate retort that suggested our recipient didn’t quite believe us – really?, what do you mean? yeh, right – pull the other one. And we both agreed that the reason for that response was linked to an organisational culture where colleagues had rarely been told, “thank you” or had been humiliated in the past for sharing or talking about their feelings.
It’s such a shame. As painfully corny as it sounds, feedback really is a gift.
So I’m renaming it. I’m not going to call it feedback any more.
I’m going to call it communication, or talking, or sharing, or … anything but feedback, in the hope of getting rid of the stigma, of its negative connotations, and so that one day more people will do it generously and naturally and most ably.
Must go … someone I know needs talking to …