Feedback is needed for effective and efficient goal attainment. That should make it important to us and something that we would want to seek out on a regular basis. To the contrary, feedback in human systems seems to have a particularly bad reputation. What goes through your mind when someone says to you, “Can I give you some feedback?” Time to duck? Regardless of its unpopularity we use it all the time. When driving somewhere in your car you use landmarks as feedback that tells you that you are headed in the right direction. Unusual noises in your car are feedback that tells you that something may be wrong and that it’s time to take it to the mechanic. Those are just two of many, many ways that feedback is important to us. It seems to be feedback from other people that we often find problematic. We think that such unpopularity comes from our misunderstanding of it. So let’s set the record straight.
Feedback is information from our environment about how it is responding to us. With that information, we can judge if we are on target or off target toward whatever goals we may have within that environment. It is sound and current data that is available to us at all times, though we are often paying insufficient attention to notice it. Feedback allows us to evaluate to what extent the impact of our behavior is congruent with our intentions. The more we can fine-tune our behavior to be in sync with our intentions the greater will be our effectiveness.
People often attempt to use feedback as a direct means of changing someone’s behavior. In fact, it is not very good at that. Feedback offered from that intention is often heard as criticism, which, as often as not, generates defensiveness and resistance rather than the desired change. Hence, when someone says to you, “May I give you some feedback?” Duck!
As important as feedback is, managing it effectively calls for understanding three principles:
- Feedback always says something about the giver, not necessarily anything about the receiver. Consequently, let your initial response be curiosity about what’s going on with the giver, then decide what your next course of action might be.
- What is done with feedback is solely in the hands of the receiver. Consequently, be curious about why you are choosing to react the way you are, and then choose a response that might more effectively get you what you want.
- Feedback related the goals of the receiver is more likely to be accepted than feedback related to the goals the giver has for the receiver.
Kurt Lewin offered the formula: Behavior is a function of people in an environment Bf(P+E). Too often we attempt to manage our behavior solely on data from our internal belief systems (ignoring feedback from our environment) only to find ourselves with results we neither wanted nor intended. Effective goal achievement and change management call for paying close attention to the feedback from our environment (including of course the people in it) so that we can adjust our behavior to get the response we wish from those around us.
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