Deb Palmer George answers questions about feedback

July 21, 2016

Deb Palmer George answers questions about feedback

If you work with people, you give and receive feedback at some point. As CNM consultant and feedback workshop leader Deb Palmer George explains below, feedback does not have to be negatively confrontational; it can be a turning point in relationships. Read more in the conversation below!

Register for Deb's workshop Giving and Receiving Feedback on August 23 to learn more.


Q: Why is it important for nonprofit professionals to learn how to effective give and receive feedback?

A: Feedback is the way that people connect and understand what they’re doing that works, in order to continue that, and what they’re doing that doesn’t necessarily work or isn’t as effective that they could stop doing, do less of, do differently, or better. It’s the way that we adjust, and really it’s the way that we connect with one another within an organization about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it to produce needed results and create the culture that we want.


Q: What does “feedforward” mean?

A: I wish I’d coined that term, but Marshall Goldsmith who wrote What Got You Here Won’t Get You There made the term popular. I love the term feedforward because when we’re sharing observations with each other or when we’re receiving that, it’s not so that we can debate a past that can’t be changed. It’s so that we can learn from experience in a way to make adjustments going forward. So feedforward is actually a lot more accurate descriptions because you’re sharing specific observations, why they matter, with the intent to make shifts.


Q: How did you get interested in this topic in the first place?

A: We all have in our early lives we have experiences of becoming aware of people correcting us or people complimenting us, and most of the time no one coaches us on how to receive correction to give corrections or how to receive compliments or give compliments. What happens is that we take what it felt like at those earliest times – did we feel awkward? embarrassed? ashamed? blamed? shy? – and those feelings start to influence the way that we give and receive feedback going forward.

I was aware of that early in my life, but fast forward to when I was an up-and-coming manager at a company, and it was all about critical feedback and giving feedback with the intent to help. The culture was that you had to receive it no matter how difficult it was, and it was all about dealing with difficulty.

Then one day a superstar in our company received an unexpected and shocking bit of feedback. And it was about something that had built up over the years and was actually the reason he didn’t get a promotion. He had no idea but by the time he received the feedback and heard that it was something that had been happening for years, he was distraught and ashamed and wondered whether this time with the company was over. In that moment, it clicked for me: why didn’t anyone care enough about this guy to give him this feedback earlier? Why wasn’t he in tune enough to understand that seeking feedback and receiving it would have been useful along the way? And why hadn’t I, as the person responsible for training and development, made it so that people set about giving and receiving feedback with ease regardless of the content?

And when you really care about somebody, like if someone had a bit of spinach in their teeth, you would tell them! It’s awkward but you tell the person you care about and everyone else you let it go.

It's about adjusting. The earlier and the most specific the feedback (and it has to be observation-based) is like making minor adjustments on a dial - the small turns you’d made on an old-fashioned radio dial. We’d make little adjustments and the music would be perfect. We’re not talking about wholescale changes; if we’re thinking about that, we’re not thinking about feedback, it’s something else.


Q: Who would benefit from taking this workshop?

A: If you breathe and are a human, you would benefit! It’s really for everyone. For experienced leaders and coaches, this is such an important part of everyday leadership and coaching that to be reminded and refreshed is critical. Another benefit is that the workshop will have people who are new to giving and receiving feedback. People who are new to it help the more experienced people be reminded, and having the diversity of experience in the room benefits everyone. For those who are new, ultimately the quest and intention is to create within organizations, and even society, a culture of connections and sharing observations for the purpose of positive adjustment with people, meaning building up strengths. And then who knows, maybe an entire community? So when somebody sees something that a partner organization is doing that they might not agree with, instead of escalating to conflict, because they’re so different than we are, it becomes a natural process of saying, “This is specifically what we’re experiencing. And we’d like to talk about potential adjustments.”

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