By Anton Vanhoucke

Teamwork tip 4: Build a robust foundation to handle raw and honest feedback

Excelling through great feedback

Google ‘feedback method’ and google will come up with countless ‘systems’ for giving feedback. Any of these systems quickly becomes awkward and forced when you try it. There is no bullet-proof algorithm for giving feedback. In this article, I’m sharing the essential part of great feedback: a robust foundation for self-confidence.

Take, for instance, the hamburger method for giving feedback. This method is one of the most cringeworthy. Sadly it’s one of the most popular ways too. The idea behind the hamburger method is to sugarcoat criticism with two bits of praise. Use it frequently, and people will start getting their shields up at the first hint of praise. They know that some dirt is coming. And when people’s guards are up, they don’t take any feedback seriously.

The hamburger method is also much too verbose to be efficient. Imagine an action-adventure movie with a top crew in a tight situation. The hero team using the hamburger method would be plain hilarious!

Raw, honest feedback is the way

A top crew needs something better than a hamburger method. They need raw and honest feedback. It’s fast, concise, and gets the team out of a tight spot. The problem is that this doesn’t work in the average workplace: nobody is serving you the raw and honest facts. And you’re not returning the favor. What is happening? There is a lack of safety and a lack of self-confidence. The politics and uncertainty of professional life seldom encourage honest feedback. But there’s hope: you can build robust platforms for feedback. Let’s investigate how.

Honest feedback can be hard to digest

The raw feedback can be hard to swallow: it might hurt your self-image. Imagine you are fulfilling the ‘Product Owner’ role. Now someone bluntly points out that your Product Backlog wasn’t all that valuable. It stings and you launch into a heated discussion about the correct way to provide feedback. Furthermore, to avoid a hurt ego you never discuss your backlog with that person anymore.

This way of handling feedback will make it very hard for you to grow in your role. You will start to avoid the best feedback. Also, people providing you feedback stop being candid because of your anger and pain.

Build a solid foundation

What you need is a robust foundation. By a foundation, I mean an acknowledged base level of performance from which you can derive enough self-confidence to handle feedback. It is an anchor for your self-esteem and personality. Let’s get back to the Product Owner example above. When you feel pain and despair bubbling up, the better course of action is to ask for the things you did well. The answers to that question will rebuild your platform. After you’ve counted the small successes, you have a platform to investigate the rest of the feedback without hard feelings. 

If you keep a diary – a common practice for successful people – you can use it to build your foundation too. It’s a perfect way to remember your successes. Count your blessings in your diary, and your platform will become more robust every day.

Practice giving direct and honest feedback

Next to building your own platform, you can build that of other too! You can help your team develop their own foundation. This will help them handle honest feedback and make them excel. 

The method is simple: just make it a habit of giving praise where praise is due. Acknowledge good work and valuable behavior. Be honest from the start, but begin practicing with the positive feedback. Make sure to point out the specific action and the effect you appreciated. Avoid making it personal, even the things you value. Don’t say: “You are the best,” but say: “You really made that meeting succeed by finishing on time after having clarified the next steps.” 

Remember that feedback is about behavior, not results.

No one has full control of results, because unexpected things happen. But we do have a high degree of control over our behavior.

When you get the knack of it, you will have achieved two things: a habit of giving concise feedback and a crew with a platform for stomaching negative feedback. 

Conclusion: now is the time to start building foundations

Forget the hamburger method, the three-step method, the ladder method, and any others you might have learned. There is no quick fix for feedback. It takes conscious effort to build platforms: yours and that of others. It also takes skill to bring the message clearly and to the point. The art of giving praise is surprisingly hard to master. But start practicing today and reap fantastic growth for you and your team! 

If you want help implementing an excellent feedback culture for your team or organization, consider hiring me as a coach. You can also take the full course in Agile Coaching. Maybe check the other teamwork tips on my blog too.

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