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Updated 29 Sep 2020

How to (constructively) engage with your peers

How do I foster an environment where feedback is freely given; and is well received? By following these handy tips. 

Deirdre Elphick-Moore, 14 July 2016  Share  0 comments  Print

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Giving feedback requires forethought, emotional intelligence, time and a good command of language and emotions. It is a complicated process, and that is just from the perspective of giving feedback. The receiver of the feedback, especially as an entrepreneur, needs to be able to listen, be open to the opportunity the feedback presents and be able to apply the advice appropriately.

I have adapted the work of Shari Harley, and created a 10-step feedback process. Feedback is almost always met with resistance, probably because it involves slowing down, and looking at our intentions and our relationships.

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All these things have become deeply uncomfortable in our bustling, digital age. However, if you are serious about creating an environment where constructive feedback is given freely and well received, then I challenge you to practice these ten steps consciously:

1. Check your intent

Are you coming from an honourable place? We are human and sometimes give feedback to put people down or to assert status. Regardless of providing positive or negative feedback, the intention should always be constructive. In other words, it should be focussed on development and growth. If your intent is less than honourable, walk away.

2. Set expectations

Do not assume openness or immediate change. Not everyone likes feedback; some people feel very uncomfortable when the proverbial spotlight is on them. Others may lack self-esteem or feel threatened by feedback. Or, they may need time to process your comments. The setting of expectations allows you to recognise that feedback is not about people accepting what you have to say. It is not about you at all.

3. Ask for permission to give feedback

Invite him/her to willingly receive the message with an open mind and the understanding that your intention is to offer help. This step allows the recipient to choose a time to talk to you; a moment when they are not distracted by deadlines or already worn down by a tough day.

4. Set the scene

Choose a place without distractions so the person can focus on what is being said; and work mindfully through the remaining steps. The right setting helps minimise compounding elements, like ego and defensiveness, which can derail feedback sessions.

Workplace -observations

5. Outline your observations

Be clear that your feedback is based on your perceptions and be specific about the person’s behaviours. Avoid phrases like “you are…” and rather use words like “you did…”.

6. Outline the impact of the observed behaviour(s)

This is your opportunity to describe why the person should listen. Outline how their action(s) help, or hinder, the business’s goals or the way people engage with them, for example.

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7. Ask for the person’s opinion on what you have said

Expect defensiveness, counter-feedback and excuses. Be careful not to get side-tracked here as these are common. Allow the person to speak freely and to release any negativity towards the feedback process.

8. Suggest a way forward

Outline how you think the person could apply your feedback, within the context of their opinions and your perceptions.

9. Again, ask the person’s views and agree on a way forward

Don't assume silence means affirmation.

10. Thank the person

Acknowledge if a conversation has been awkward, and reinforce the idea that your feedback was given with positive intent.

Following these steps can allow you to improve your company’s culture, putting all stakeholders on the same page; creating an environment that’s open to feedback – both positive or negative.

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About the author

Deirdre Elphick-Moore

Deirdre Elphick-Moore, has an Honours Degree in Psychology and over 10 years of international experience in human capital management at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Co-founding The Office Coach in 2009, she now focuses on personal and workplace effectiveness training and development.

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