The Amazing Value of Feedback

When a loved one is going through a difficult or complicated situation, we often feel the need to share our opinions, advice or feedback; even if the person on the receiving end of might not have asked for it. However, if you are the one going through a difficult situation, receiving this feedback can be the piece of information that changes your perspective and helps you grow. 

Furthermore, being open to constructive criticism is a stepping stone into the development of our emotional intelligence. Understanding that our perspective on a specific situation is not the only one, and perhaps not even the most accurate one, is key in our growth both personal and professional. In other words, receiving feedback, as hard as it may be, is always a positive.  

Notwithstanding, it is understandable to be reluctant about giving our receiving feedback. As a recipient, if the feedback is negative it can be uncomfortable and cause a lot of stress. As the one who provides it, giving unbiased and constructive criticism can also be very difficult because it can cause negative feelings and create unnecessary conflicts. Nonetheless, the reality is that we should all want feedback, as it is one of the most efficient mechanisms to hone our skills, develop ourselves and secure professional opportunities.

So how can we better prepare ourselves to receive feedback?

Ask the right source: make sure the person you are asking for feedback is someone you trust, admire and/or has more experience in the area than you. This will ensure that you will receive constructive feedback and useful advice, even if it is hard to hear. 

Request it: Let your boss, partner, friends or colleagues know that you welcome and appreciate their feedback and advice. Let them know when and how you prefer to receive this criticism. 
Be thankful and act on it: Show your gratitude by taking action. There is nothing more frustrating than continuously giving advice to someone and not seeing any change. It can even be perceived as if the suggestions are not being valued. 
Avoid being on the defensive: This is the most difficult one. Do not argue with the feedback, or try to justify the reasons behind your actions. Instead, take the time to evaluate it. Listening to other's perspective is a privilege - it helps us recognize the expectations of others, learn to handle differences with grace and outline prospective strategies. Be prepared to feel self conscious and perhaps even insecure - but don't take it "too personal", remember that the person giving you their opinion is trying to help you see things from a different point of view. 
Do not give feedback while you are receiving it: Many of us, although we ask for feedback, the moment we hear something we do not like, we try to find something negative about the other person as a defense mechanism. Remember that, at that moment, the conversation is about you. The time will come, of course, if asked, to provide feedback to that other person.

How to give constructive feedback and useful advice? 

Know your audience: This is life lesson that can be applied to every scenario, but specially when it comes to speaking the truth to someone else. If you have a personal relationship with the recipient, use what you know about them when constructing your feedback. If you know they are specifically insecure about something or have demonstrated their weak points, try to be sensitive about them - while still remaining honest. 

Do not act like a know-it-all: Even if someone has trusted you to give them your opinion, that does not necessarily make you the expert on the topic. Pretending that you would have acted totally different or that you have all the right answers, not only makes you look smug, but automatically alienates your audience. Instead, trying to build a connection with your recipient and letting them know that you understand them (or the reasoning behind their erred actions) can make your feedback stronger and better received. 

Put yourself in the recipient's shoes: Consider if you are qualified to give this person constructive criticism or advice. Would you have done anything differently if you were in the same situation? Have you had any experience that you can draw from to better prepare your feedback?  If not, then only share what you know and suggest they seek help from a more educated source. 

Do not make it about you: Sometimes it is best to listen and advice - rather than diverging into a conversation about your own issues. Although it can be reassuring to learn that someone has gone through our own experiences, if someone is coming to you for advice, they are clearly preoccupied with their own problems and do not need to venture into yours. Share examples of why you are experienced in the subject, but always come back to the root of the discussion. 

Be compassionate, be kind: our words are powerful and can help build or permanently damage others. Be conscious of your position and the impact you might have on the recipient of your advice. Realize they are in a vulnerable spot and that what and how you share your opinion can determine, not only the aftermath of your feedback but perhaps of your overall relationship. For instance, in a work scenario, if you are giving an employee a performance review, refrain from offending or being condescending with that person, as they might not be in a position to refute or defend themselves. In a personal relationship, no matter how close you are, if you are giving advice or constructive criticism be weary of ridiculing or being judgemental, as it can create a drift in the relationship, specially if the recipient feels self conscious around you afterwards. 

Be accepting and know your limits: Not every person or every piece of advice you give will well received or even acted upon. Sometimes, we might be speaking truths to deaf ears. Nonetheless, when asked for advice that we can actually give, we should share our knowledge without expectations. Even more, when someone asks us for feedback it does not mean we have to get involved or try to fix their problems. Once we give our feedback, it is the recipient's responsibility what they do with that feedback. 

Remember the saying, 'feedback is the breakfast of champions'. Whenever you have the opportunity to ask for feedback from someone you respect, take it - because you never know what you might be missing in the equation and what life lesson lies on the other side of that conversation.