Feedback without tears

How to give feedback is an issue that comes up with increasing frequency in my coaching work. It reflects, I suspect, a normative advocacy of feedback cultures in organisations. This arouses considerable anxiety among people who feel themselves under pressure to provide feedback left, right and centre. They often hold a belief that, if only they could get the recipe right, they could learn how to transmit feedback and move on.

There are some well-meaning intentions behind feedback culture. In particular, it draws on Carol Dweck’s idea of a growth mindset – whereby people welcome corrective feedback as a platform for their development. But the espousal of feedback can also be oppressive because the linear and mechanistic assumptions around “delivering feedback” ignore the complex feelings it can arouse.

While models of providing feedback have their place, the problem with the “recipe” view of feedback is that it ignores how the “delivery” of feedback will be received by the other party. People are not automatons and the difficulty for people providing feedback is that they can really have no idea in advance how it will land. Simply understanding this can relieve some of the stress for those anticipating getting the feedback process wrong.

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