Two stars and a wish
WELCOME to the third instalment of a regular series focussing on professional skills for chemical engineers. The story so far in a nutshell: communication is the most important skill in life, and empathy is the fundamental key to all good communication. So now you are up to speed, let’s take a look at how we apply our skills to the subject of feedback.
A while ago, I was collecting my daughter from a dance workshop. Each child was taking a turn to perform their improvised dance sequence. At the end of each performance, the teacher invited the other children to offer two stars and a wish – in other words, two things they liked about the performance, and one suggestion for improvement. I was blown away by how genuine, uninhibited, constructive and relaxed these eight-year-olds were about sharing their thoughts on others’ performances. Thinking about it later, it dawned on me that professional engineers could learn a lot from this. Giving and receiving constructive feedback is something we struggle with, and yet the potential benefits are great. Let’s take a deeper look.
Let’s define it as one person providing constructive observations, with the intent of helping another person to be better at what they do. This could be in the form of written comments, or face-to-face.
An increase in personal effectiveness brought about by feedback, clearly benefits the individual’s career prospects and their motivation, and this in turn benefits their organisation. But if a culture of feedback prevails in the organisation, the positive effect is amplified to things like increased staff retention, closer collaboration, and higher levels of innovation.
Because we perceive the words “I’ve got some feedback for you” as a threat. We prepare ourselves to be challenged, our weaknesses exposed, our personalities criticised. This makes it difficult to receive feedback in a rational way, and can make us ultra-cautious about hurting people’s feelings when giving feedback. We end up saying something like “she’s a really nice person to work with”. This is a lovely thing to say, and will undoubtedly be true, but as feedback goes, it is useless. Why? Because a comment like that does not help the person get better at what they do. So, let’s have some top tips for giving and receiving feedback which diffuses the threat, and maximises the benefit.
Sometimes feedback does not seem to make sense. However, other people can see us more objectively than we can see ourselves, so it’s worth going away and having a think – they might have a point.
Finally, some thoughts about the difference between written feedback and face-to-face feedback. About the only good thing going for written feedback is the permanent record that it provides. However, written feedback is limited because we cannot see the other person in real-time. Face-to-face gives us more scope for higher value feedback because we can empathise using body language and listening.
There is one more big advantage to face-to-face feedback. When two people sit down and share the gift of feedback, it raises the level of mutual trust. The increase in trust will enhance the quality of that professional relationship, leading to higher quality collaboration in the future. Now, if you have a culture of face-to-face feedback embedded in your organisation, the sky’s the limit.