If there is something difficult to do, it is giving feedback. Just remember the last time you were asked the question: What do you think about…? or How do you like…? Fill in the blank space with whichever thing that you are invited to give an opinion upon. It is all the same for the little or for the big stuff, intimidating, isn´t it? Oh, yes, especially if we are talking to our boss. The general reaction is trying to think what the person is expecting to listen instead of saying what we really consider about the matter.
Giving feedback is scary because it is part of a communication process that can affect two parts —the giver and the receiver. The impact that we give can have positive and negative effects, and of course, we fear the negative effects. So here is the core consideration, whenever you are asked to give feedback you are already in the process and there is no way you can avoid it. So face it. It is not important what you think your receiver wants to listen, because you really do not know. So the best that you can do is take a deep breath and dig in your mind for your real, sincere, own opinion. But, watch out, you have to be careful; you have to do it correctly.
John D. Sterman, in his book Business Dynamics: Systems Thinking and Modeling for a Complex World says: “In common parlance the term feedback has come to serve as a euphemism for criticizing others, "positive feedback" does not mean "praise" and "negative feedback" does not mean "criticism". Positive feedback denotes a self-reinforcing process, and negative feedback denotes a self-correcting one.
Feedback, we have to agree, is a mystical thread that starts between the person that is asking for it and the one that is being asked. It is a complicated path to follow because it can be riddled with irrelevancies and intangible variables that can lead us to chaos quite easily. The best we can do is keep feedback simple. Feedback should be a deliberate effect via for a more tangible connection.
There are two ways of giving feedback: the qualitative and the quantitative. Quantitative feedback tells us how much and how many. Qualitative feedback tells us how good, bad or indifferent. Both kinds lead to different and antagonistic results: reinforcing or contradicting the receiver’s point of view.
Quantitative feedback needs parameters; this is a way to measure and to support in an objective way your opinion. It is based on the evidence given by the data available; on the relevance given by a context; on the consequences that the given information makes us assume certain results and the actions that must be stimulated in order to achieve results.
Qualitative feedback is a signal given by the listener in terms of the inputs received. It is like a yes/no question. It needs a short answer: do you like it or not? do you agree or not? what do you prefer: this or that? The short answers are: Yes, I do; No, I do not or It is indifferent to me.
Quantitative feedback gives the opportunity to give arguments, to support your opinions and to be objective. Qualitative feedback does not, and although you may have an unprejudiced point of view, this kind of feedback is always subjective.
Whenever we are asked to give feedback, we generally tend to give qualitative feedback, and most of the time we are expected to do so. Yes, it is natural to do so, because most of the time we know that the feedback we are being asked is just a rhetorical form to disguise self-reinforcement. We also do so because we think that is the easiest way to getting it right. But I am afraid it is not.
Giving feedback is the kind of material that has to be labeled: handle with care. The most important ingredient it has to have is honesty. The objective of feedback is to fill in a gap between what the receiver thinks is the reality and what the world perceives as real. The second most relevant element is courage. You have to be honest and courageous to give relevant feedback. Last but not least is knowledge. You have to know what you are talking about, if you do not, it is better to refrain that giving a bad opinion. Everybody will tell.
The best way to give feedback is to go for the qualitative method that gives you the opportunity to be objective and to give a better point of view. But sometimes we do not have the chance to follow that path. Ok, then, give your qualitative feedback and switch as soon as possible to the quantitative mode, and stand out the parameters that support your opinion upon.
If you are giving a feedback that concurs with your receiver’s opinion or if you disagree, supporting your ideas upon parameters is the best you can do. If you coincide, it will give you a more professional image. If you do not, if you differ, it will give you the occasion to explain your reasons and will gain the threshold to expose things from your point of view.
Giving feedback is difficult because it can be a sticky matter. But it is also a good possibility of gaining respect. Enterprises and individuals look for people confident enough to express their thoughts. It is a golden bridge to demonstrate the expertise that you have in a specific topic.
The worst thing you can do when giving feedback is to start criticising or praising someone for no reason. Do not take advantage of someone´s vulnerability, it will go against you. If you feel tempted to do so, breathe. Do not go there.
Feel free to express your opinion, whether you agree or disagree, but do it giving qualitative and quantitative feedback. You will be rewarded with respect.