How to Give Feedback Effectively? What to do Before, During and After a Feedback Conversation?

Giving good quality feedback is an important skill to have in any organisation. Doing so regularly with our peers gives everyone an accurate understanding of how they are doing at work, and what needs to change / improve. However, I have always felt that the importance of feedback and how to effectively deliver it is something which is rarely stressed and communicated within companies. In this article I want to share some of the best practices I have learnt from different people and mentors over the years about giving feedback.

Why?

The first step to giving good feedback is to realise the importance and reason behind doing so. I believe that the only reason to provide feedback is to improve performance while working together. The purpose of giving feedback is never to measure performance, blame, to prove yourself right, to make others wrong or to put someone in his/her place.

I believe this is the most important aspect of feedback which we often miss. I see feedback as a ‘gift’ given from one person to another, with the only purpose of improving how they work together. When we see feedback as a ‘gift’, the feedback conversations tend to be more natural and less awkward.

Before (Preparation)

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
― Abraham Lincoln

Like most things in life, doing some groundwork before giving feedback is critical. Over time I have come up with a list of steps which helps me prepare for a feedback conversation.

  1. The first step is to collect data and evidence to back up your feedback, and to make sure you have seen the situation from different angles and point of views. This might include gathering some tangible data like sales reports, code reviews, etc or validating your feedback with different set of people.
  2. Apart from remembering the why behind sharing the feedback, it is also very important to have an open mind going into the conversation. We must be willing to investigate / apologise if things turn out otherwise. If the person you are sharing the feedback with brings up new facts or information you weren’t aware of, make sure to acknowledge them and take a time out to investigate rather than thrusting your feedback upon the person.
  3. Create a comfortable space for providing the feedback. Allow enough time so that none of you feel rushed. Depending on the type of feedback, choose an appropriate setting for the feedback. For example – do not choose a place which is overly conspicuous, and never give negative feedback in public. If the feedback is on a trivial issue, you can do it while walking back from a meeting, or in a vehicle driving to another destination to make it less formal. But if your conversation is more difficult, you might want to do it in a meeting room. The important thing to realise is that there is no one right place to deliver feedback, and you should choose based on the type of feedback.
  4. Sleep on it! If you feeling angry, upset or feel an urge to provide feedback; it is often better to sleep on it. Giving feedback at the wrong time can often do more harm than good. Once your emotions are more settled and you have gathered your thoughts, you can then share the feedback as soon as possible.

During (Process)

While you can do all the preparation you want, receiving feedback can still be a stressful experience for people (especially if it is critical). To ensure that the conversation goes smoothly you can follow a few guidelines :-

  1. Criticise in Private, Praise in Public. Use this as a golden rule for any feedback conversation.
  2. Never attach adjectives to people. Start by stating why you are providing feedback, which is always to improve performance (of the person, team, organisation). You demonstrate that by stressing on the impact of the person’s actions (on the team and their performance) and not on the person themselves. For example – Instead of saying “you are a weak communicator”, say “your communication style can be refined to make a better impact in team meetings”.
  3. Be specific in your feedback. Give examples. Do not be vague in your statements.
  4. Be aware of the other person’s body language. Notice if they are getting defensive, angry, upset and change course if necessary.
  5. Be prepared for an emotional reaction. But do not react yourself. Do not get into a game of arguments and justifications. Stay silent and let people vent out their emotions (if any).
  6. Listen and paraphrase what you hear to ensure there is no confusion and misunderstanding. Understand the situation from the other person’s point of view.
  7. Use non-conflicting language. Use “I” instead of “you”. For example – Say “I felt disappointed when you did that.” rather than “You disappointed me by doing that.”
  8. Don’t Push – When you push people, they will push back. Present your thoughts without trying to push them through. Give people a choice to accept or reject your feedback, as you cannot force them to your point of view anyway.
  9. Give more positive feedback than negative, and always be sincere when giving positive feedback. Remember that there are always positives about people to acknowledge.
  10. Thank them for listening to your feedback. End the conversation on a positive note, with the other person thinking about the next steps. He/she should see the feedback as a stepping stone, not as a stumbling block.

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
– Winston Churchill

After (Follow Up)

To make sure that the feedback is serving its intended purpose, i.e., to improve performance, it is important to take a few follow up steps after the feedback conversation :-

  1. Send a brief summation of your meeting if it was important and critical enough. Also summarise any action points both of you agreed in a follow up email.
  2. The other person might need some time to process what you discussed. Give them that space. Follow up after a few days for any additional thoughts. Ask for feedback about how you provided the feedback. Anything they would like you to do differently the next time? Let your people know it is ok for them to give you useful feedback.
  3. Make sure to act on your action points, or share your progress on them. If you don’t walk your talk, you lose trust. If that happens, you have bigger problems to worry about.
  4. Follow up and ask for progress on the other person’s action points. Offer your support and help in any way you can.
  5. Thank the person and commend him/her for any change in future behaviour. Remember you can never give enough of positive feedback.

To conclude, feedback sharing sessions, when done well, are an incredible tool to build healthy relationships and make teams stronger. By listening and working on feedback, people can learn about themselves (self awareness) and be more conscious about their choices and decisions (career development). When you encourage people to give and share feedback, it helps create a culture of feedback, which eventually increases the strength and effectiveness of teams in your organisation.

The Distinction Between Meaningless Activity and Meaningful Actions, And Why It Can Make All The Difference

In today’s age of always connected devices and nonstop notifications, we all have more to do each day than the hours can fit. Crossing items off the to-do list always feels good and gives one a feeling of accomplishment, but have we ever stopped and asked ourselves – accomplishment towards what?

The ‘Busy’ Trap

Whenever I have stopped to ask myself that question, I have realised that I have fallen into the trap of being busy rather than being productive. Being busy often relieves us from the fear of sitting still and the pain of conscious thinking, while the really important tasks often gets neglected.

We are often sucked into doing meaningless activities, either through algorithms running on our “smart” devices, or through habits we have formed by emulating our peers rather than consciously choosing them. In other words, we waste most of our time doing meaningless activities that we have no time left for what really matters.

Meaningless Activity vs Meaningful Actions

Meaningless vs Meaningful

Everything that we do can be divided into either meaningless activity or meaningful actions. What I mean by meaningless activity is anything we do to only keep ourselves busy. Example – checking email and social media, hanging out with friends, or anything we do without a specific intention in mind.

In contrast with the above, any activity which adds meaning to your life, or takes you in the direction of a conscious intention (or a goal), is what I would term meaningful. It could be a business trip for one, or spending time with their family for another.

What is meaningless and meaningful is different for everyone. Only you can define that. No-one else can make that distinction for you.

We are often focussed on what is urgent or what seems important today that we end up ignoring what is really important for us in the long run. Only by being aware of our decisions we can be deliberate about them to move our life in the direction we want to go.

“A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.” – Hunter S Thompson

Focus and Prioritise

Research has shown that not having the courage to live a life true to ourselves, not expressing our feelings when we should have, and working too hard are the top three regrets people have at the end of their lives.

Doing things that we find meaningful is essential to our well being. But how many of us spend time wondering about what gives our life meaning, and what is really important to us?

Three Questions

  • What are you good at?
  • What do you love doing?
  • What need can you serve?

I believe the intersection of answers to the above three questions will be the most meaningful work for you. Once you have these answers, it will give you the clarity to prioritise tasks and the courage to say “No” to anything that doesn’t align with what you discover.

Having the clarity about the “why” before the “what” and “how” of any action will ensure you create focused output that moves you forward, rather than effort that just takes you around in circles. So the next time you think you have no time to follow your dreams, you know you have fallen into the trap of being busy with meaningless activities.

Have You Discovered Your Leadership Lighthouse? Why Should You?

A Global World

Today, we live in globalised world which is more connected than ever before, and movement of people and goods has never been easier. It is driven by economics and money, and it is possible to sit in your couch and order what you want from the opposite corner of the world, and have it delivered to you in a few days.

Open markets, lower trade tariffs and an ever increasing movement of people, goods and information to any part of the world has resulted in great prosperity for everyone involved. Major world problems like poverty, hunger and disease have decreased considerably over the last 50 years. The health and well-being of people all over the world has never been better.

However, living in a consumerist society driven by economics has also resulted in greed, corruption and a pursuit of economic success at any cost. It is no surprise then that we saw scandals like Enron in 2001, the financial crisis in 2008, and the Volkswagen emissions scandal in 2015-16. These scandals resulted from cutting corners in the pursuit of success by leaders in these companies.

Have you discovered your leadership lighthouse?

The Leadership Lighthouse

Just like ships need a compass and a lighthouse to navigate in the vast oceans, our companies and their leaders too need a leadership lighthouse to find direction in the vast ocean of global competition. The speed (of a ship or a business) is not the only thing matters. Our leaders need to realise that the direction they choose to go and take their companies along is more important than the speed.

The Leadership Lighthouse is a set of values (to guide us), standards (to measure us), and boundaries (to keep us in check); which will act as a moral compass as leaders take decisions and navigate their companies in the race for success in the global economy. These standards and values guide us in finding the right direction in challenging and exciting times.

Find Your Own Way

The whole essence of leadership is to bring our own unique values, talents and skills into the world, and to express ourselves in alignment with those. When we accept the standards and values others’ have set for us, we surrender our own will and judgement. By figuring out our own leadership lighthouse, we allow our unique light to shine upon the world.

If we only follow what everyone else is doing and not take the time and effort required to find our own leadership lighthouse, which is unique for everyone, we will soon find ourselves lost and confused. But once you have put in the effort and identified your unique set of values, motivations, desires and talents; you can nurture them and let them guide you.

If we stop and look back at the history of the world, be it in the business world or outside of it, you will find that every human achievement is an achievement of the individual who went against the norm and followed their own leadership lighthouse.

Questions to Discover Your Leadership Lighthouse

How Can You Find Your Leadership Lighthouse

As mentioned above, our leadership lighthouse is the set of standards and values that define and inspires you. It will guide you during challenging moments by serving as a moral compass, and give you a solid ground to stand upon when you face turbulent times.

To find leadership lighthouse, try answering the below questions :-

  1. What do you want to achieve in the long term?
  2. What really matters (is important) to you?
  3. What makes you happy, angry or sad?
  4. What are your duties and obligations with regard to different aspects of your life?
  5. What have you learned from the biggest failures of your life?

Answering these questions will require some sincere and dedicated effort on your side, but once you do that, you will have more clarity on how you define your own leadership lighthouse. I would also like to add that it is a continuous rather than a one-time process. You should revisit the above questions every now and then as a “health-check”.

Knowing your leadership lighthouse will give you the confidence and assurance to follow your own path instead of the path others have decided for you. Once you nurture and develop your strengths and act consistent with your standards and values, you will allow your own unique light to shine upon the people and the world around you.

The Role and Importance of Emotions in Our Professional and Personal Lives

When I started working at the age of 21, my manager was only a few years older than me. Both of us being very young and passionate about work, we developed a good friendship. As I completed my first year at work, I sat down with this friend (manager) to discuss my performance. I wasn’t ready for what came next.

In the meeting he was very formal and distant in his approach which I found unfair. Due to our friendship, I expected an informal conversation. Instead, what I got was “feedback” and “improvement points”. When he was done with the performance cycle, it left me in a very bad mood and it affected our friendship. While he was only performing his job as a manager, I was too naive and felt betrayed as a friend. It took us more than a year to mend our friendship, and I am good friends with him to this day.

This incident was very tough for me, and it was not until many years later that I recognised why it was so. At first I blamed my manager friend for being more of a “manager” than a “friend“. Later (after we mend ways) I blamed myself for being too emotional and developing friendships at work. I came to the (wrong) conclusion that emotions and rationality are mutually exclusive, and I shut myself down emotionally.

It was much later that I realised that emotions were not the culprit. Instead it was my inability to handle my emotions which led me to react impulsively. With experience I have come to believe that emotions are absolutely necessary for doing any meaningful work. They only seem tough when we don’t know how to handle them.

I have already written about how to handle our emotions in the workplace. In this article I want to stress on the importance of emotions as the driving force behind decisions.

We Experience The World Through Our Emotions

We walk around the world and make sense of it through our emotions. When we experience an event, different emotions get triggered based on our values and beliefs. Emotions make our experiences good or bad, valuable or not, and pleasurable or painful. If we introspect we will found that every decision we end up taking is derived from an emotion that touched and moved us.

These emotions can overwhelm us occasionally, but without them we would have no connection with people or events around us. While emotions can sometimes bring pain and tears, it is only through them that we feel joy, happiness and peace in life. It is very important to realise that emotions are our strength, and not our weakness.

It is our emotions that make us human. The little moments of joy when we play with our kids, the smile on our faces when we help someone, the tears in our eyes when we see something cruel and terrible (even if it is on TV) – it is these emotions that connect us all as human beings.

Seeing a tweet by a billionaire CEO and to be able to feel empathy for him/her makes us bridge the economic, physical and social divides and come closer. On the other hand, if we are privileged in any way, being able to empathise with the less privileged and act for them brings us closer. Emotions help keep our egos in check, and prevent us from being indifferent towards the less or more privileged in our society.

The Role and Importance of Emotions in our Lives

Emotions and Reason are Not Mutually Exclusive

Most of us believe that emotions and reason are opposites of each other, and it is often presented as a fact that you can’t act rationally if you are emotional. In many workplaces, emotions are frowned upon and an excessive display of emotions (joy, tears, anger) are seen as a liability.

On the contrary, what I have learned over the years is that emotions can be our biggest asset. They can give us important information that can shape our lives if we listen to what they are trying to tell us. The key is to learn how to express our emotions without repression or explosion.

Emotions can help us clear the fog of rational choices and reveal our moral lighthouses. They help us choose wisely when presented with two equally good or equally bad choices. Emotions clarify our thinking and help us see rational choices in a new light while pure rationality often makes us run wild with ideas, even at the expense of others. Rationality without emotions can look enticing in the short term, but it can be a menace in the long term.

It Is Impossible to Be Rational Without Emotions

While it is true that emotions can overwhelm rationality at times, it is impossible to be rational without being emotional. Today there is scientific evidence to prove that we, as human beings, are incapable of making decisions if we can’t feel our emotions. You can read about the works of neurobiologist Antonio Damasio to see that without emotions, there is no decision making possible. [1][2]

He worked on a patient with a severed connection between the frontal lobe (where rationality originates) and cerebral amygdala (where emotions originate) in the brain. After the surgery, the patient could think, but he could not feel anything. He noticed that while he was able to engage in rational thought all the time, he was not able to make a choice over the other.

When Emotions Overwhelm Us?

We all have been in situations where we don’t want to do what we know is the right thing to do. When emotions overwhelm us, we can get sucked into the temptation of the respective emotion and (re)act in a way which provides us emotional relief. For example – When you couldn’t control your frustration and vented it out on your manager because it felt good to spurt it out.

Emotions are very good messengers, but poor masters. We should always listen to them and let them play a big role in our rationality, but subjugating reason to emotional whims can cause us short and long term harm. In the end we should always use reason to choose the best option available for us, and use emotions as a lighthouse to guide us on the right path. This will help us in making the right choices (which might not be the easy ones) in life with conviction.

Emotions Intelligence is a Skill. Train Yourself

Now that we have seen that there is no action possible without emotions, we can conclude that emotions are not bad or good in themselves. It is our ability to handle them that make us interpret them as so. It is a skill that, just like other skills, can be developed.

Learning to deal with uncomfortable emotions builds confidence and opens up new pathways which were earlier closed to you. Emotional people are often regarded as weak in certain societies, but I believe that the ability to handle one’s own emotions is one of the most useful skills a human being can acquire.

Increased emotional awareness can be a great asset we all can make use of not only to make the right decisions for ourselves, but also to create a better world around us. A world which is not mine or yours – but ours.

There Are Only Perspectives, No Truth. And Five Different Perspectives You Can Apply In Each Situation

Tom : “I am sorry I am a bit late to this meeting. My previous meeting ran over.”
Sara : “I am more worried about the missed deadline on the product your team is developing. Your team is slow.”
Tom : “It’s not my fault. Two members on my team reported sick last week and I can’t help it.”
Sara : “I don’t really care what happened. But I know I can’t count on your team. This makes me look bad.”
Tom : “You are not being fair, Sara. “
Sara (to herself) : “Tom’s lack of experience shows. He doesn’t hold his team accountable, and always has excuses for delays.”

How many times have we spoken or seen others speak such sentences? As we solve complex business problems, very often we “know” the truth (you are slow, this is not how things work here, etc) and base our actions on it. In this article I want to stress that there are no truths in the workplace (and life). There are only perspectives, and there can be many different perspectives depending on how you look at the situation. Once we realise that our apparent “truth” is only a perspective, it allows us to view the same situation differently to help us make better decisions.

How We Form Our Truth?
The first thing we must do is to take a pause and ponder about how we form our truth in the first place. We (human beings) gather inputs from our five senses – smell, touch, sight, sound and taste. Anything which is external reaches us via one of the senses. We touch something which is hot, and we “know” it is dangerous and not safe. We hear something from multiple people or from a reliable source, and are inclined to believe it as “truth”.

The quality, source and frequency of sensory information we gather has a big role in how we interpret it. For example – If you read an article with a lot of grammatical and spelling mistakes (quality), you are less likely to trust the content. Similarly, if you hear about the same thing from multiple people (frequency), you will be more inclined to trust it.

Once we collect the sensory information from the outside world, our brain make sense of it. It decides which signals to pay more attention to and which to ignore. Our brains also apply the collective influence of our memories, beliefs, thoughts and values to every new information, and derive meaning from it. I already wrote about Listening Filters and how they create the “truth“. For example – Growing up in a very hierarchical corporate culture (and society) in India, it still takes effort on my part to see and interact with people above me on the corporate ladder as peers in Amsterdam.

What if when you die, they ask "How was heaven?”

What if when you die, they ask “How was heaven?”

The Five Different Perspectives
The important thing to realise here is that the “truth” we form by the above process is only “our” truth, and not the absolute truth. Realising that different people can see and create their own truth in the same situation is the key to working together more productively. Seeing our own truth as a ‘perspective‘ instead of the truth leads to humility and a willingness to consider other perspectives.

Unless we step down from the high pedestal of truth we often end up placing ourselves on, we can’t see all the other perspectives out there. I believe there are (at-least) five different perspectives which can offer tremendous insights to us. However, it is not always easy, nor are we often willing, to view a situation from these perspectives. They might lead to some uncomfortable moments, but the process can often result in new insights and learnings. These not only can lead to better results but also help us become more human in the process.

As I write down the different perspectives below, I will also specify a few questions we can ask to uncover each perspective :-

First Person (My) Perspective
The first person perspective is how I see and perceive things. The biggest clue about the first person perspective is the usage of pronouns like We, Us, Our, I, Me, Mine in our thoughts and language. This is the most natural perspective for all living creatures, and we listen and think in first person perspective by default. The first person perspective leaves you with ownership, authenticity and often attachment to your point of view.

Questions to Uncover First Person Perspective
1. What conclusion am I arriving at?
2. Is it the truth, or just my opinion?
3. What reasons/proof do I have for my opinion?
For Example – Sara’s (in the above conversation) first person perspective could be – “Tom is a difficult person to deal with because of his immaturity. I can’t trust him or his team as he is not accountable.”

Second Person (Your) Perspective
The second person perspective is seeing things from another person’s point of view. Listening to someone and making efforts to understand her perspective shows respect. The second person perspective calls for seeing and feeling the world as another person does. It doesn’t matter if you agree or disagree with it. The second person perspective has a lot to do with listening and it can have a massive impact. Second person perspective leaves you with empathy and humility.

Questions to Uncover Second Person Perspective
1. How would this situation look and feel to him/her?
2. How would he/she interpret the situation? Can I step in his/her shoes?
3. Can I feel how he/she might be feeling (anger/joy/frustration) right now?
For Example – Sara’s second person perspective could be – “Tom is new to this job and he must be finding it difficult to make demands from his people. He must be really stressed out and might need some help to manage his priorities better. I might only be making matters worse for him. Instead, can I help him somehow?”

"Don't judge a man until you've walked a mile in his shoes." - American Proverb

“Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.” – American Proverb

Third Person (His/Her) Perspective
Another perspective could of a related third party. If you are talking to your colleague, a third party perspective could be of your manager or another colleague. For example – In a workplace, a third person perspective could be of a colleague whose work will/might be impacted by what you are talking about. Seeing through the third person perspective leaves you with a big picture view, more options and opens up blind spots.

Questions to Uncover Third Person Perspective
1. How would my boss think about this situation?
2. How would the sales head think about this conversation?
3. If I were him/her, how would I have described the situation?
For Example – Sara’s third person perspective, from the point of view of another colleague, would be – “Tom is trying hard to keep everyone happy, and failing at it. And Sara is not making it any easier for him by making demands without understanding his situation. How will they make this project succeed? If they fail, it will hurt our team and we will miss our targets.”

Stranger (Witness) Perspective
The fourth perspective calls for viewing the situation from the point of view of a witness. A witness is someone who neither has any stake in what you are discussing nor does he knows either of you. The witness perspective is purely objective, and the witness observes the proceedings just like a camera would. Taking this perspective leaves you with detachment and objectivity. You see things as they are, without any judgement and attachment to either side or to a specific outcome.

Questions to Uncover Stranger Perspective
1. How would a stranger see and report my situation?
2. If this were a movie, how would I describe it?
For Example – Sara’s stranger perspective could be – “Tom is acting like a typical newbie, and is going to make the same mistakes everyone makes. People around him are too busy in their own lives to help or assist him grow through this phase in his career. Sara or Tom’s manager can step in to help, but do they even realise the need for it.”

God / Compassion Perspective
The fifth perspective calls for looking at the situation from a place of love, kindness and compassion. With this perspective, we look how we can make things better for every party involved, and worse for no-one. We attempt to listen to our inner voice (consciousness) in this perspective. How does it feel? Is there something which I know but am unwilling to acknowledge?

Questions to Uncover God Perspective
1. Would I want this conversation to be aired on TV, or reported in tomorrows’ newspapers?
2. Do I hear an inner voice saying “this doesn’t feel right” or anything else?
3. How would Jesus / Allah / Buddha / Krishna do in my situation?
Disclaimer – This perspective has nothing to do with religion or our religious views, but is rather an invitation to stand in a place where we want to see everyone happy. It is about feeling instead of thinking, and using our heart for mutual well-being instead of our brain for personal gains and business results.
For Example – Sara’s fifth perspective could be “Tom must be going through a hard time, and might even be carrying his stress into his personal life. And I am not making it any easier for him. Can I help him manage his priorities better? Can he seek some training or help? The same holds true for me too. Going after business goals are fine, but it doesn’t have to be at the cost of stress and unhappiness.”

“There are no facts, only interpretations.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

“There are no facts, only interpretations.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

To conclude, asking the above questions and viewing our situation from multiple perspectives can be tremendously liberating. It can provide us with options which weren’t visible to us before. Getting lost in what we believe to be the truth (first person perspective) can bring us stressful days, broken relationships and health problems.

All of this can often be avoided by taking a look at the above five perspectives. It can often ease up any emotional build up (stress, anger, over-excitement) and prevent us from doing something in haste and from our limited viewpoint. It might not solve every business problem we get stuck in, but we can surely finish with better results and make more informed choices after considering these five different perspectives.