The challenges of feedback

Employee meeting

I remember the first time I got feedback on a piece of writing at work – there was so much red ink on that sheet of A4 my initial thought was: ‘oh no, there’s so much wrong with it.’ At first, I felt discouraged and worried that I wasn’t able to deliver the quality of work that I should have.

But when I started working through the feedback, it dawned on me that this was for my own benefit – there were ideas that helped me improve my piece of writing, tips on how to develop my tone of voice and suggestions on how to tighten up the structure. That’s when it hit me: feedback is about taking something good and making it great.

Staying open to feedback is essential if you want your work to develop. Feedback from other people (colleagues / managers / the office puppy) will help draw your attention to what needs to be changed or improved; you’ll get fresh ideas that might encourage you to see things from a different perspective; you’ll feel motivated to give the task another shot.

But it’s not just writers who deal with feedback on a daily basis – it’s employees across the job spectrum. It can be feedback that’s being given after a project didn’t go as planned, or a 1-2-1 session with your manager about your performance, or you might actively ask for feedback and input from your desk buddy.


Feedback isn’t easy (to give or receive)

In the workplace, your manager is essentially your ‘reader’ – they see your strengths and weaknesses, talents and areas where you could improve. And just as a reader’s feedback can shape a writer’s thoughts, aims and, ultimately, content, a manager has the power to affect an employee’s work.

Having received constructive feedback throughout my work experience, I’ve realised that it’s so important to have a great manager who is able to apply different approaches for different employees; straightforward blunt feedback might not have the best outcome for a more sensitive soul who might end up feeling under attack. And others prefer it if their manager tells them how their work could be improved point blank so that they know exactly what needs their attention and can target the issue head on.

Professor Nass, co-author of ‘The Man who Lied to his Laptop: What we can learn about ourselves from our machines’ believes that: ‘Negative emotions generally involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones.’ He also points out that our brains remembered more of what was said after we heard disapproving or negative comments.

So, our mind lingers on the negative and it can sometimes prove difficult to hear that sometimes, our work just doesn’t cut it – it’s a blow to our egos and our own expectations of ourselves. In a bid to protect our egos, we can deflect criticism either by ignoring what has been said or pointing the finger at other colleagues or reasons.


But feedback is important all the same because…

It promotes dialogue and builds trust

Feedback goes beyond pointing out what a person can improve or change. It’s also about building a safe space between a manager and an employee (writer or not!), where either party feels comfortable enough to discuss any issues or challenges they might be facing that perhaps keeps them back from performing their best at work.

Ed Batista, executive coach and instructor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, points out that creating safety and trust are key components for building trust; getting to know each other, talking about emotions and making it ok to say ‘no’ are all ways of building trust between a leader and an employee. And when there’s trust, there’s the belief that constructive feedback is coming from a good place.


It can improve employee morale and productivity

The data that we mine at Karian and Box has consistently shown that regular feedback sessions improve employee morale, productivity and job satisfaction. It comes down to the fact that we all like hearing positive things about our work, how we conduct ourselves in the workplace and apply our skills. It reassures us that we’re adding value to the business, helping it succeed as we grow and develop ourselves. It reminds us that we’re playing a part in something bigger than ourselves.


As the saying goes, ‘you either win, or you learn’. Feedback, done right, can help with both.

Posted on 2nd October 2018 in Capability&Culture&Leadership
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