• Phil Cole

What to Do With Feedback

We have previously discussed how best to respond to a piece of feedback, and how best to give feedback. These activities support the functions of leadership within the group because they move information about quality within the process of work between members. There's one final piece of the feedback puzzle: the way that we, personally, use a piece of feedback within our learning process.


The way that we receive feedback from others affects our success or failure in accomplishing behavioral change. Not all feedback is useful or accurate, so we need a method to process the information using the learning tools. Let's explore this application.


Before we do anything else, we thank the giver for the feedback. Whether or not we use the feedback to learn, and whether or not the feedback is given from a genuine desire to help or an alternative motive, we must recognize that the act is one of generosity. This means saying thank you. Receiving feedback does not require a response; if you do not immediately see an answer in the process below, then simply say that you will consider how best to use this information. That is all that is required, but this interaction sets up a positive emotion reaction in the future.


We must always perform one critical internal step: assessing our emotion reaction. Recognize the emotion you feel when you hear the piece of feedback and then find the underlying reason why this emotion occurred. What past experiences and expectations of the future cause you to feel this way? This may reveal something about the workplace that you didn't know. This moment of reflection also allows us to separate our emotions from our learning, because our emotion reaction may be influenced by relationships other than the feedback information interchange itself.


Once we do these two things, we can begin using the feedback to learn. To do this, we identify several pieces of information within the performance of work that produced the feedback:


First, we identify the failure. What was the wrong outcome that happened? What effect did our performance have on the work product, and on the other members' work? This allows us to pinpoint the deficient performance. What action or actions did we perform that caused this failure? This is what we would change. Both details may or may not have been contained in the feedback we received, but we need both to proceed through learning.


These two factors lead us to the desired performance. What was the better (or even perfect) outcome, and what should action should we have performed to create this outcome? The more specific this action, the better. If we can't identify a replacement behavior, then we should seek out ideas in the three places to learn. Again, we often don't receive this information - and almost never in sufficient detail - in the statement from the giver.


With all of these elements in place, we can see exactly what behavior needs to be replaced and what should be the replacement behavior. Each of these is tied to a specific outcome, which allows us to measure our success. This leads us to the last part of learning from feedback, which is a specific plan to implement the behavior. Our plan should include when and how will you try the new behavior. What event will trigger the behavior, what steps will the behavior include, and how will you confirm that the outcome was achieved?


This is a simplified version of the learning cycle, but it allows us to quickly assess and include (or not) feedback into our performance of work. Depending on how important or useful the feedback is to our success, we might do this while listening to the giver's statement, or we might need a few days of consideration to fully reflect and plan. No matter how the learning process takes place, feedback is only as effective as our ability to understand and incorporate the information we receive into our work.

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