Give the gift of feedback this christmas …

Originally written 12 Dec 2011

Have you ever had to give people feedback with one of those tools? It’s possibly one of the easiest gifts you’ll have to give this Christmas – it’s free, it costs you nothing more than time; the person has told you what they want, feedback about XYZ; and …………. you don’t have to wrap it and you can do it in the luxury of your pyjamas on your PC if you so wish. Simples.

But you hear the odd grumble about this whole feedback process and how for some people it’s just an unnecessary evil of life …“I actually felt physically drained after filling in one”. And indeed, we’re all entitled to our opinion but perhaps this person missed the point – when was the last time you felt ‘physically drained’ giving a present to someone? Oh, the torture, surely you should be completing this stuff with a smile on your face and a warm glow in your heart, even if you’re comments aren’t wholly positive – they’re still for the greater good of the person who you’re sending them on to?!

Anyway – high, horse, off.

But this along with something else I heard this week did get me thinking about the whole “feedback is a gift” thang. Because it is and it’s also Christmas so lets explore this a little more …

The ‘Smellies’ gift set

You can guarantee you’ll get one every year – if you’re lucky the smell might well be yours, but there’ll always, always, always be something thrown into the mix which you just can’t use – it has little substance and certainly no place in your personal grooming. My other half always gets something with post-shave gel – despite the fact that he’s been ¼ stubble for the last 7 years!

Feedback equivalent – the one with no substance …“Your presentation style is ok but I think you could improve it a bit”

The size medium jumper

You feel the buttons on it, squish it, do the comedy ‘rattle’, open it up and voila! another jumper, size medium – and you wouldn’t actually mind a jumper but it’s the same as last year and same as no doubt bought for all men/women in the family! There’s always a clothes item under your tree come 3pm which you know just won’t fit and won’t suit you.

Feedback equivalent – the one which is about a person not a behaviour …“Your lack of confidence shows when you come into a room full of leaders”

The gift voucher

You know you’re getting somewhere if your Christmas present comes in an envelope, it can only be cash or a cash equivalent which isn’t gonna be something ‘not you’. But quite often do get vouchers – i.e. cash but forced into a really small window of what you can spend it on, a bit like basically narrowing down the options of what is a much bigger picture of ‘buying something nice’ for yourself.

Feedback equivalent – the one which distorts perception by focusing on a small part of the picture …“You don’t seem to be able to motivate your team and I’ve seen you struggle to keep them on track with performance. Management obviously isn’t your strong point – perhaps you could look to see if someone else in your team could help some of the juniors instead.”

The little something a bit unusual but just nice

Like a pack of chocolates, but all your favourite one. The upgraded version of the socks you always wear. The whisky or wine you drink, but only on a special occasion. The treat you buy for other people but don’t often get back in return.

Feedback equivalent – the one which reinforces/ improves self-esteem or uses recognition to motivate others …“I really appreciated the time you’d put into the team away day, because it was so prepared I felt I was far more able to get something from it and the exercises were very appropriate and also fun to do!. I also thought the way you opened up to us at the end was a good way to help us to understand how I can support you too, as I do want to.”

The perfect present

What present can you remember from last Christmas? Or from any Christmas for that matter – what was the best and why? Mine wasn’t the Acorn Electron or the numerous bikes, the Scootex or the iPod, for me it’s the ones which are something you saw in a shop months ago but couldn’t justify buying, or the CD which you heard a song from on the radio and forgot all about it, or the perfume, clothes or book picked out for you not because it was flash, but because the person thought it was very, very you and possibly that was the thing that told you more than the gift itself!

Feedback equivalent – the one which shows some thought and goes beyond the superficial perception to explain the impact too …“Sometimes when you respond to my emails you only ever answer one of the questions. I interpret this as you are either too busy to respond properly or that you don’t read them fully and therefore the impact of this is that I can feel a little unsupported.”

Anyway, granted some of the analogies aren’t quite there and I hate to sound ungrateful – that’s not the point. No, point being, how much thought are you putting into your feedback? Are you really giving people gifts which they will appreciate or can use or are you just generically ticking them off your ‘To do’ list?

Ramble over, I’ll leave you with one final thought before you go off to enjoy a few shandies. I was collating some survey results this week which included a ‘comments’ section where you could leave your thoughts and also your email address should you wish to …. So you’re expecting something meaty, controversial, heart breaking etc, etc, etc ……………. Nope, just“you’ve spelt research wrong above”. Thanks for that, I’ll file it under my tree next to the ‘Lily of the Valley’ basket of goodies ……………………

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