Learn to Love Feedback: How to Create a Feedback Friendly Culture in the Workplace

By: Angie (Min Ah) Park

Why do we need feedback?

In order to embrace feedback, we first need to understand what the measurable benefits of practicing feedback are.

According to a survey by the Harvard Business Review, 44 percent of managers are uncomfortable giving feedback, and 21 percent are so uncomfortable with it that they avoid giving feedback altogether.

At the same time, researchers determine feedback as an integral part of successful coaching, whether it is used to help athletes improve their perceptions of competence or integrated as a part of an executive coaching process to develop the individual’s work performance, self-awareness, and confidence.

Moreover, studies have shown a strong correlation between employee engagement and feedback. According to statistics by Officevibe, 82 percent of employees appreciate positive and negative feedback and 43 percent of highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week as opposed to 18 percent of low engagement employees.

But giving and receiving feedback well is hard!

This is true: practicing feedback takes a real skill. Giving effective feedback doesn’t come naturally to many of us, and it is common that we also don’t enjoy being on the receiving end of feedback either.

Showcasing this, debates about what is and isn’t working with the practice of feedback in organizations, coaching, or management are growing. Although some of us may intuitively understand the value of feedback, figuring out how to practice it with impact and finesse is a separate challenge.

This is because many of us fear disappointing or otherwise negatively affecting the relationship with our colleagues (in the case of giving feedback) and often feel threatened or defensive when we receive unexpected constructive feedback. In this respect, one big hurdle that we must all face against giving and receiving feedback well is. . . our brains

Because our brains are designed to protect us from danger, when we experience social threats (such as a conflict ensuing from a feedback we provided or receiving critical feedback), an effect called the amygdala hijack can trigger a fight-or-flight response from our bodies. This fight-or-flight response is what we experience when we feel defensive, unsafe, and want to run away from conflict or challenging feedback. 

How can we get better at practicing feedback?

This is why the first step to getting good at feedback is to embrace a mindset of empathy and humility, and in order to do so, understand what feedback truly means.

Despite all the bad rep that feedback has gotten from negative experiences of feedback gone wrong–such as connotations of criticism and judgement–feedback simply means dialogue that promotes reflection, learning and growth

Good feedback is specific and actionable so that the receiver can change their behaviours in the future. The goal of feedback is mutual learning and development for both the giver and receiver.

If you are providing feedback, it is important to understand the difference between destructive and constructive feedback. While destructive feedback is purely negative and meant to tear someone down, constructive feedback builds them up instead, because we lead from the mindset of helping others to fulfill their potential. 

Understanding this difference also matters in how we deliver the feedback, if we are on the giving end. It gives us empathy for the receiver’s experience and helps us to prioritize their growth and well-being.

If we are receiving feedback, accepting what feedback truly means gives us the courage to move beyond our bodily responses and to work on how we respond to feedback. Remember that negative experience of feedback can be created by both bad deliveries of feedback as well as bad responses. No matter the feedback, we are responsible for how we respond in the moment! 

How can we create a feedback-friendly culture in the workplace? 

Finally, to build a feedback-friendly culture in the workplace, we must accept that this takes both individual and organizational commitments.

As an organization leader, it is integral to establish a learning-oriented culture that places an emphasis on flexibility, open-mindedness, and exploration to equip your employees with the ability to adapt and innovate. This culture normalizes the goals and mindsets of practicing feedback and minimizes any structural or cultural barriers such as bureaucratic hierarchy, intense competition (that discourages employees from feeling safe to be vulnerable), or little time to invest in the employees’ development.

Individually, we can also lead by example and normalize the practice of feedback by identifying ways that you would like to receive feedback and actively let your peers, managers, and direct reports know that you want to receive feedback. You can ask your team how they would like to receive feedback and encourage them to hold each other accountable. 

Another great way of normalizing feedback is by making it a routine. If you are a people leader, find ways to incorporate feedback into your personal check-ins or regular team meetings whether it is to receive your team’s feedback or to provide feedback to guide your team’s performance. Remember that great cultures aren’t build overnight. It takes intention, positive examples, and an effective habit to create a feedback-friendly environment!

Over the next two weeks, we will look at more practical communication strategies to giving effective feedback as well as to respond to feedback in the right way. Be ready to practice these skills.

In the meantime, did you know that The Humphrey Group offers comprehensive learning experiences on giving, receiving, and learning to love feedback? Check out our whole roster of Leadership Communication Training experiences here!