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We have a problem with feedback

Feedback is broken. We're on a mission to discover the keys that unlock feedback rich cultures, for you and your organisations. #masteringfeedback

We’ve observed that the general understanding of feedback varies wildly from person to person. To explore this we challenged the LinkedIn community to define ‘feedback’ in 10 words or less.

Some definitions were mechanical or transactional in nature:

  • “A response to output”

  • “The communication loop into a process or system of part of what it may produce, particularly to focus on improving what that aspect may produce”

  • “What you get in response to something you did/said.”

  • “That which filters through paradigms of giver and receiver”

Others were based upon assessment:

  • “Judgment with grace”

  • “Invitation for validation. it can be applied in any context”

  • “Constructive criticism”

  • “One person's perception of another, but don’t use in isolation”

  • “An expression of how others perceive this situation or work”

More still were premised upon changing other people:

  • “Response intended to be available as a basis for improvement”

  • “Offering your perspective to possibly improve someone's/-thing's output"

  • “Life lessons that have an impact and cause a change”

  • “Given when asked for it, pure observation, to refine and upgrade life”

  • “A dialogue to help gauge progress towards a goal/outcome”

And finally there were some that suggested an exchange of information:

  • “Telling people useful stuff about what they've done recently”

  • “Knowledge about how something went, helps improve your next attempt”

To be thorough we also checked some dictionaries:

  • “advice, criticism, or information about how good or useful something or someone's work is” - Oxford

  • “Information about something such as a new product or someone's work, that provides an idea of whether people like it or whether it is good” or “The return back into a machine or system of part of what it produces, especially to improve what is produced” - Cambridge

  • “Information about reactions to a product, a person's performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.” or “the modification or control of a process or system by its results or effects, for example in a biochemical pathway or behavioural response” - Google

Bottom line - there’s not a clear, single meaning and there’s weaknesses in these definitions.

Assessment - When our feedback contains assessment we’re making two key assumptions. We’re assuming we have greater knowledge than the person we’re feeding back to. We’re also assuming they will value our assessment. Assessment essentially pollutes information with our own bias.

The desire to change people - When our feedback is given with the intention or desire to change a person we are again making a couple of key assumptions. First that our desired state for that person is indeed better. And we’re assuming that the person would like to achieve our desired state. Neither may be true.

Multiple non-human context - Mechanical definitions of feedback aren’t particularly helpful to us as they focus on the action rather than the purpose.

This misalignment in our collective understanding has a direct correlation to feedback being painful, awkward and broken. We believe it’s critical that we’re aligned when it comes to “what is feedback”.

Aligning on the definition of feedback is the first key and catalyst to genuinely unlocking a feedback rich culture, leading to a better, happier workplace.

So we offer you our definition (in11 words 😉):

Offering someone information, so they can make more informed decisions

How aligned is your org on the definition of feedback?

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