Friday, June 20, 2008

The Art Of Constructive Feedback

I spent much of my evening in darkness after thunderstorms knocked out my power. It didn't come back on until after I was in bed. Sometimes I actually enjoy when this happens. It certainly makes you appreciate electricity and all the things that are dependent on it.

I talk a lot about Zen, and I even try to practice it, but my granddaughter, Chloe, lives it, and, as a child, she is able to do that without any effort. Those of us who are adults, however, must work at it. It is a challenging thing to live your life awake and present to the moment. I am better at it than I used to be but sometimes I am "asleep" even when my body is awake and appearing to go about the daily tasks of living. You can learn a lot about living by watching children. Chloe lives in the NOW. So, she is much more of a Zen Master than me. When I am with her, I am the Grasshopper.

All of us are sometimes criticized. It is often referred to as constructive feedback to give it a more positive spin but it still usually feels like good old criticism. I have been criticized many times in my life and I admit that I didn't always take it very well. It's not because I think I am perfect. It's more because I really strive to do things well and to always do the right thing. When someone tells me I am not meeting an expectation, it hurts. I don't know if there is a painless way to receive and accept constructive feedback. I do believe, however, there are painless and positive ways to give constructive feedback. First of all you must always respect the dignity and feelings of the person on the receiving end. Constructive feedback can be presented in a gentle, even loving, way. Constructive feedback doesn't have to be presented with negative terminology. The reality of a situation can be presented in a non threatening way balanced with positive examples of how the situation could have been handled or how it might be handled in the future. I don't believe any decent human being comes to work or does anything with the intention of making mistakes or doing poorly. In today's complex and highly technical work environments. the use of computers often makes the possibility of errors more likely than not. Some management gurus, like W. Edwards Deming, believe that mistakes in the workplace are usually the blame of a system or a process rather than people. When was the last time a "system" or a "process" was put on a work improvement program? People seem like the only option for criticism, so they are usually given the blame. None of us are perfect and we do make mistakes and sometimes our mistakes may be carelessness. Sometimes we may need encouragement or some deserved criticism. If we deserve it, we need to be humble and accept that we have made a mistake or need to get our heads on straight. If we are the leader, the parent, or the friend, do it in a caring, non threatening way so the person walks away with some dignity and resolve to try harder. Encourage them. Don't break their spirit.

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