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“It’s time to disarm feedback. If we do the work to build a foundation of trusting relationships, our feedback issues will begin to disappear.” – Jason Lauritsen

Feedback has become this lightning rod issue the past few years among those working to create a more human (or maybe humane) experience for all involved. What makes feedback so interesting and complex is that it so often affects those on both sides of the experience negatively.

Most people hate receiving feedback. We try to embrace the pain because we know it fuels learning, but it’s still unpleasant much of the time.

We also don’t like giving feedback. Who wants to make other people feel the way we feel when we get feedback? Unless you are a sadist, you can probably relate.

And yet, we know that feedback is important. Without it, you don’t know how you are performing or what impact you are having on others. In its absence, learning is stifled and growth slows.

This is why we spend so much time obsessing about feedback. It’s a big deal and until we figure out how do it better, we can not realize our individual or collective potential.

There have been a lot of solutions to this problem offered over the years. Use feedforward instead of feedback. Or use the neuroscience informed SCARF model from David Rock. There is not a shortage of advice about how to do feedback better.

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Jason Lauritsen, HRExaminer.com Editorial Advisory Board Contributor

Most of these approaches are good ideas. But, I think they miss the underlying issue that is really causing feedback to fail–a lack of trust and relationship.

When I think of my relationship with my wife, the person who I trust the most in the world, I have gotten regular feedback from her over the years that was both positive and critical. That feedback has made me a better husband and person.

Interestingly though, we never use the word feedback. Offering and asking for suggestions and opinions is just woven into our relationship. I don’t ever say, “can I give you some feedback?” or “would you give me some feedback?” And, yet it happens all the time.

And, while I’ll admit that I may react defensively once in a while, most of the time I can take the feedback pretty easily and turn it into learning. That’s not because she has any magical skill for delivering feedback or that I’m great at receiving it. What makes it work is that I completely trust her and I know for certain that she has my best interests at heart.

When there’s a strong relationship built on a foundation of trust, the feedback technique used becomes less important. This is true in the workplace too.

During research for my last book, I had the opportunity to interview some employees at software development company, Menlo Innovations. They use a process called feedback lunches as the mechanism for employees to collect meaningful feedback. It’s a pretty simple, yet remarkable process.

In short, an employee schedules their feedback lunch several weeks in advance and invites up to five colleagues who are best suited to provide informed feedback on their performance. The employee then provides these people with a write up of what projects they’ve been working on and any specific areas where they would like feedback.

During the actual lunch, the employee listens and asks questions as their peers provide them with direct and specific feedback on their performance–both positive reinforcement and areas where improvement is needed.

I was intrigued but skeptical when I first heard about these lunches. It seems that it could be both awkward and painful, evoking more defensive emotions than positive. But, the employees I spoke with assured me this isn’t the case.

They said that it works because of their culture. A core tenet at Menlo is that you succeed by making the people around you look good. This is built into everything they do. As a result, during their feedback lunch, they trust that each person in the room has their best interests at heart. Feedback is given with care and positive intention.

Just like in my marriage, Menlo has found a way to create a solid foundation of trust and relationship for employees that makes feedback work. If you want to learn more about Menlo, their founder wrote a book about the company called, Joy Inc. I highly recommend it.

Fixing feedback isn’t about feedback. While it can’t hurt to learn how to give and receive feedback more effectively, it’s time we address the real issue. Without trust and a strong relationship, the exchange of feedback will always be like walking across a theoretical minefield of negative emotions.

It’s time to disarm feedback. If we do the work to build a foundation of trusting relationships, our feedback issues will begin to disappear.

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