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Feedback: How to give -- and get -- more of it

(MoneyWatch) Over the years, I've noticed three things about feedback:

1. Constructive feedback is incredibly useful, and

2. More is better than less, yet

3. People are remarkably stingy with it

That last point was driven home once when I was on a panel exploring different generations' work styles. I spoke positively about Gen Y's seemingly constant need for feedback, noting that I can post instant reviews of any products online. Why should I only get feedback at work every six months, if that? A fellow panelist swooped in to offer a counterpoint, arguing that many of the projects she managed ran longer than six months. How ridiculous to offer feedback more often!

But I'm not sure that's true. Not all managerial feedback needs to be a formal "360 degree" evaluation -- or even an official report. There are lots of ways to offer and solicit feedback more informally. You can:

-- After a presentation, discuss what worked and what didn't, criticizing yourself first

-- Compliment a new hire on a salient point she made in a meeting, and explain why it worked

-- Advise a young employee that people would take him more seriously if he said "like" less, and set up an accountability system to each other to get you to stop a bad habit, too

-- Coach a direct report on how to cold-call someone

-- Ask team members to watch clients' faces during a presentation and cue you in later on when their attention wandered

-- Ask someone whose writing you admire to edit a document and tell you what you can do better.

I think we sometimes shy from giving too much feedback because criticism is hard to deal with. But done right, it's really a gift. It's easiest just to ignore someone. Taking the time to try to improve performance -- and see your own performance improve -- means you care enough to make it happen.

I've been grateful, recently, for some honest feedback. At my personal blog, I asked readers to "beta test" a novel manuscript for me. Some of the feedback has been bracing -- but it means the final draft will be much better than the first draft in ways I couldn't have seen on my own. Likewise, at a recent speech, the organizers graciously forwarded me audience comments afterwards. While I admit that I enjoyed the comment calling me "freaking great! very funny!" the most useful advice was that I could incorporate more content and speed up my delivery. That will help me be more "freaking great" next time.

How do you give and solicit feedback?

Photo courtesy of Flickr user allensima
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