I had so much fun at the all-staff meeting we held this week at Temple University and felt very supported by the team as we practiced giving and receiving feedback to create a more open and collaborative culture. We invited all of our IT colleagues from across campus to join us for the meeting and many of them came, which was terrific.
I was able to incorporate some of the feedback from our previous meeting. Specifically, I heard that some team members were uncomfortable at our last meeting because I asked everyone to share personal stories with someone they didn’t know. Also, I received a suggestion to use technology to solicit more honest feedback and make people feel safer. To address this concern, I used PollEverywhere to create anonymous polls scattered throughout the presentation.
After giving an update on the action items from our previous meetings, I introduced the Fear to Freedom model to the group. This is a simple and powerful tool that has helped me recognize when I am in fear and focused on myself and to manage myself to a more open and free state of mind.
The heart of the training was around how we can think about feedback as a gift that we graciously give and receive from a place of freedom and openness. These are the principles that we asked everyone to follow.
When giving feedback:
- State facts – be specific
- Leave out generalizations (all, every, always) and judgement (good, bad)
- Go direct – preferably in person
- Check your intentions
- Ask if the person is open to feedback
- Use “MRI” – Most Respectful Interpretation – of others’ actions.
- State the problem from your own observations
When receiving feedback:
- Listen attentively
- Say thank you
- If you are not in a place to be open to feedback, let the other person know
- Assume the best intentions
- Ask clarifying questions
- Avoid being defensive (going to fear)
- Take the feedback away, determine what you want to do with it
Then we broke into groups of three and alternated roles of giver, receiver, and observer playing several scenarios designed to show how fear can interfere with either giving or receiving feedback.
After the first scenario, I asked the group whether it went as they expected and many of the groups indicated that they were surprised that the gift of positive feedback was not well received. Each person only saw the following information for the role they were playing.
- Kelly (Giver): Pat is a peer and one of the best people on your team. It has been a crazy couple of weeks on the project and the entire team has been working really hard to make a deadline. Pat really helped you out personally by the way s/he maintained a sense of humor and optimism. You want to let Pat know what a difference s/he made to you personally and the team.
- Pat (Receiver): You have often felt that Kelly is quite competitive as a team member and a brown-noser and looking to advance at the expense of the rest of the team. You are not sure if you trust Kelly.
- Observer: Watch to see if the giver asks permission and is specific in the feedback. Watch to see if the receiver sincerely thanks the giver and if there is any underlying tension in the exchange.
One giver described in bafflement, how the receiving partner responded to his sincere thanks with abrupt, monosyllabic thanks that made him want to stop giving praise. The receiver reported that he felt he was being open, but that was not how the giver or the observer felt about his responses.
This simple role play demonstrated how much our internal stories influence our actions and put us into a closed, judgmental, and fearful position. When we take this defensive and fearful stance, we can discount all feedback, even when it is positive, from individuals based on our previous interactions or even things we have just heard about them.
When we can master our stories and stay out of fear, we can break the negative cycle and be in a powerful position to influence and change outcomes. The most common question that I got after the meeting was what if all of our attempts to extend in openness and kindness are rebuffed. My answer was that we can never change anyone but ourselves. If we can stay in a place of freedom where we continue to be positive and open in giving and receiving feedback, we will be happier and more successful and productive independent of whether anyone else changes.
The quote on the picture that I found for this blog answers this question much better than I did. When we are looking for something in return to our gift of feedback, it is our ego showing up. We are focused on ourselves and want validation, not what is best for the person who we are giving feedback. We are operating in fear, not in freedom.
The slides from the meeting with all of the scenarios are available online. My challenge to you this week is to practice giving and receiving feedback using the principles above. I would love to hear from you to see how your practice is going.