It's Time to Adopt a Collaborative Approach to Feedback

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More companies are moving away from the traditional annual performance review toward an environment of continual feedback, growth, and development. You may have committed to providing regular feedback to peers and direct reports, but how do you share feedback that others will actually want to put to use, especially when your feedback is about an issue that needs to be improved?

Let’s investigate by taking a look at a few different approaches to feedback you may have encountered, either as the giver or the receiver. For each approach, think about your own experiences:

  • When have you received feedback this way? How did it make you feel?
  • Did you apply the feedback to your work? Why or why not?
  • When have you delivered feedback with this approach? How did it make you feel? How did it make the receiver feel?
  • How effective was it?


Tug-Of-War

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If you’ve ever gone through an annual performance review, chances are good you’ve experienced the tug-of-war approach; the direct report ready to present their case as to why they exceeded expectations, and the manager ready to prove they didn’t.

Notice how the giver and receiver are squared off with each other in a competitive stance. The feedback issue is between them, making it difficult to see each other’s perspectives. The discussion becomes a tug of war focused on determining who is right.

How effective do you think this approach to feedback is? What’s causing the tug-of-war to occur?

Judging

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The judging approach has become an epidemic, most commonly used when a manager provides feedback to a direct report.

Notice that the issue is pinned to the receiver’s chest, putting the receiver in a defensive position. The feedback has become personal.

How effective do you think this approach to feedback is?

Collaborative

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With a collaborative approach to feedback, giver and receiver are standing side-by-side, looking at the issue together. It’s no longer something that needs to be proven right or wrong, and it’s no longer personal; it’s a puzzle to be solved together.

How Do You Make It Happen?

There’s a reason collaborative feedback is not as common as judging or the tug-of-war: it’s not easy, and it takes a bit more preparation.

In order to adopt a collaborative approach to feedback, the following elements must be in place:

  1. You have to have positive intent. All useful feedback carries with it a positive intention to help the receiver grow and develop. If that isn’t your intention, you might not be in the best position to help. A genuine desire to help will change your tone, the words you use, and your confidence that the person can and will improve.

  2. There has to be mutual benefit. It’s difficult to make feedback meaningful and authentic if you don’t have a vested interest in the outcome. You need to have your own reasons why you want (or even need) the situation to improve. If the feedback shared has no impact on the giver, they might as well not give it unless specifically asked for it by the receiver.

  3. The receiver must want to receive it. Unsolicited feedback can be a waste of time. The feedback might be accurate and useful, but if the receiver doesn’t see the issue as a priority (or if they don’t value your opinion on the matter), the likelihood that the feedback will be heard and applied is low.

  4. You have to listen as much as (or more than) you talk. When you have feedback to share with someone, it’s clear what expertise you think you can provide. But what can you learn from the receiver? Is it possible you don’t fully understand the context of the issue, or what strategies the receiver is employing to solve it? Is it possible their ideas for improvement might be better than yours? (The answer is “yes, it’s possible.”) When you are able to share feedback with a learner’s mind, it’s much easier to establish two-way dialogue and align your perspectives and agree on the best way forward.

  5. There have to be next steps for both of you. When feedback is a collaboration, it means you both need to work to improve the situation; you can’t simply share your thoughts and then leave the receiver alone to fix the problem. Suggest next steps for the receiver, and also ask what you can do to support them. Make next steps actionable. If your feedback was about a recent presentation delivery, for example, maybe you can set up coaching sessions with them, review their next presentation notes beforehand, or attend their next few presentations and provide coaching.


The additional effort you put into taking a collaborative approach to sharing feedback will produce exponential returns. In fact, chances are that the best feedback you have received was shared collaboratively. It was relevant and wanted. It was delivered genuinely and compassionately, with the intent to help you grow and develop. Even if it was hard to hear in the moment, it had an impact on you and motivated you to better yourself.

While there are rare instances of success via the tug-of-war or judging approach, they are few and far between, and only optimized for very specific scenarios. With a collaborative approach, you’ll naturally become more engaged with your employees and coworkers, and they’ll feel the increased level of support you’ll be providing.

For more information on collaborative feedback or to book a workshop for your team, contact Plumeria Consulting at info@plumeria.consulting.

Illustrations by Ariem Duval Anthony