It seems that everyone appreciates the value of feedback. And it doesn’t matter if it’s positive or constructive. Four out of five people appreciate both positive and negative feedback. Most of us, 92% of us believe “negative” feedback is effective in improving performance. Actually, it does matter. More than half of us, 57%, prefer receiving corrective feedback to positive feedback. So with so many people believing in the power of feedback, why is it that building a culture of giving feedback is so rare? Why is it encouraging others to ‘just start giving each other feedback’ doesn’t work?

Feedback refers to the signaling mechanism in living systems, including organizations, by which they draw upon the collective intelligence of the whole, emerging from the specific local knowledge of the parts..png

If we want to increase the amount of feedback flowing around in a team without relying on the manager to make it happen, we have to have more shared context. One way places have worked to do this is through radical transparency, such as giving everyone visibility into everybody

Cause for Hesitation

The reason most people hesitate to give candid feedback is not a need for permission. Someone saying ‘it’s OK now’ doesn’t tip the scales. 

It’s not a lack of knowledge that feedback is valuable. It IS a lack of knowledge on what type of feedback would be valuable to the person receiving it. Here are reasons someone might hesitate to offer feedback

  • They don’t know what your development goals are

  • They don’t know if their way is the ‘right’ way

  • They don’t know how you like to receive feedback

  • They’re not certain if they are the only one that feels your approach needs changing. In other words, is this a singular Case, a Pattern, or is this impacting other Relationships (CPR)

  • They don’t have that kind of relationship with you yet, and don’t trust you’ll take it well

Context and feedback

All of this uncertainty comes down to insufficient context. 

One way to solve this is top-down hierarchy. When leaders are responsible for knowing all of the relevant context, they theoretically should have what they need to offer valuable feedback. Yet too much reliance on hierarchy to solve all of the business’s problems tends to create its own set of problems.  

If we want to increase the amount of feedback flowing around in a team without relying on the manager to make it happen, we have to have more shared context. One way places have worked to do this is through radical transparency, such as giving everyone visibility into everybody else’s development area. That’s what Bridgewater did with their dot voting system

One look at Bridgewater’s radical evaluation system, where everyone rates everyone on everything all the time, gives most people hives of anxiety. Development areas can have a lot of private information and many people would feel tremendously vulnerable if they were suddenly made visible. Very few organizations I’ve met are trying to create this level of transparency, and most would be wise not to try and jump from their current practices straight to radical, transparent, universal feedback

Creating effective peer to peer feedback

There are solid steps a company can take to create a safe feedback environment. Creating a feedback culture does not require everyone saying every opinion at every moment. In most organizations, the pieces of feedback that are relevant to give to someone include 

  • Feedback that can help that person grow and develop

  • Feedback important for improving business success

Here’s a simple, effective process to create space for more of this feedback that is more humane. It allows people to share their context first and build towards feedback from there, and with practice can be done in as little as a few minutes.

A person with a position of power or authority begins first, to show that it’s okay to be vulnerable. The person who would like to get feedback starts the conversation. They cover

  • What they did well, especially anything that is in their developmental areas.

  • What they learned, or would like to do differently next time.

  • What sort of additional data they would like from others. Basically, where would they appreciate feedback? The more specific about where they would like feedback, the better:

Here’s an example of how that might sound. “I thought I did a much better job of preparing for this critical meeting. I still wasn’t happy with how well I can manage complex subjects of X and Y when things are going slightly off the rails. I’m going to continue to work on noticing challenging situations and injecting questions to draw us back to the main topic. I’d love some feedback on anywhere that you thought I used questions particularly well and any instances you saw where I might have been able to rein in the conversation better.”

This approach automatically steers the feedback to be both useful and relevant and leaves the person who is most vulnerable feeling more in control. We’ve found that this completely changes the power dynamic of feedback, and reduces people’s fear. It may confirm what is known or teach about a blind spot. The feedback is typically welcomed and sparks curiosity. It allows the people giving feedback to have the context, and still allows them to offer differentiated or developmental advice. And it automatically includes the positive aspects as well as the areas for development.

Are you ready to create a culture where feedback, both positive and instructive, is welcomed?

Where in your organization do you need more feedback?

Is there anything in here that could make for a small experiment? 


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