Without humility, no feedback

“You do this only because you feel the need to shine!” 

I just stirred at him and took a deep breath so as not to say anything hasty. As he continued talking, resentful thoughts were forming in my brain. “So you think that you understand my needs better than I do?” I said to myself. I forced my thoughts down a different street. Why am I so provoked by what he’s saying?

I like it when people are curious about me as a person.  I find it stimulating to hear what others think about what I say and do. Then I know how I am perceived by others, which is often valuable. But not always. Sometimes I want to be heard and given the possibility to decide whether or not I want to be explored. In this particular monologue, there were no discrete enquiries such as, “Would you be interested in hearing what feelings you evoke in me?” There was no humility.

How is the feedback out in our organisations? Do colleagues, partners and managers usually feel like I did when those around them comment on what they have said or done? And if so, should we call these comments or observations feedback, or is feedback in fact something completely different?

Feedback should always be given with the recipients consent. Ideally at her request. It might however be necessary to remind her that there are things she should think about.

We all experience moments when we get too caught up in ourselves. Sometimes so much that it would’ve been pretty harmful if no one stepped in and asked us: ”Would you mind if I gave you some input?”

But if we miss out on our humility, there’s a risk of losing the other person’s trust. Unrequested criticism always carries a taste of indignity. Sometimes it even says more about the giver than the receiver. That’s plain and simple projection. Maybe my friend’s idea that I always feel the need to shine also tells us something about his own need to shine?

All of us walk around seeing the world through tinted glasses which colour our perspective based upon life experience. As long as we are aware of these tinted glasses, and express ourselves with humility when we give feedback, then it’s often very valuable. We do not need a manual on how a sentence should be formulated in order for the receiver to feel seen and heard. We just need to stop and consider: What assumptions am I making? Am I assuming that my need to give feedback is only about the other person? Is there anything in this that could be about me? Am I assuming perhaps that this person is putting a lot of expectations on me, when really I’m putting these expectations on myself? Or am I convinced that this person has a certain need because that’s the way I am?

“Is humility the opposite of will?”

I’ve heard this question a number of times from my program participants. My answer is that humility is not the opposite of will. Both are equally important. Will is about you as a leader staying focused on the goal and driving the organisation in the direction you want to go. Humility is about you listening and taking in what is said, and using this to develop and give nuance to your opinions and decisions. You have no need to be the centre of attention nor do you expect blind obedience. Rather, you can admit your own shortcomings and are open to others having better ideas or knowledge within a certain area. Those who lead with both humility and will can drive development toward the common good and get everyone else in the boat rowing happily in the same direction.

Ask yourself this: What would happen if we all got better at giving feedback with humility? Could we ensure that conflicts resolve themselves? Could we feel better and more easily create the organisations we truly want?

Your humble feedback creates results.

Can you remember a time when you gave someone really powerful feedback? What did you do?

If your staff were to open up to you, what would they say?

If they haven’t been especially open towards you up to this point, what do you think that could say about as a receiver?

Would you like to start giving humble feedback?

Here are some pointers for how you can make your feedback humble, in a direct manner, while doing your best to make sure your point gets through:

  1. Dare to Feel
    Aperson who is not in touch with his own feelings cannot give feedback. Dare to feel what’s going on inside of you.
  2. Examine your tinted glasses
    Askyourself: ”What part of this is about me?” What are your assumptions and preconceived ideas? It can be anything from what you assume the other person values, to what you believe are the underlying causes of the other person’s behaviour.
  3. Reflect over what you are going to say
    Youhave the pieces of the puzzle   ̶  start putting them together. You know what you truly want to say, and you know you have to watch out for assumptions which may be incorrect. Now the feedback can be sincere and humble.
  4. Check that you have a willing receiver
    Do not givefeedback unless you have an approval from the person on the receiving end. Tell your receiver they have done something that has affected you and ask if they would be interested in discussing this. Respect a nocompletely if that’s their response – without attempting to sway them.
  5. Be specific. Be warm. Be open.
    Donot give in to the temptation to wrap the feedback into an apology. It will just seem unclear and confusing. Do not belittle yourself. Your feedback is important! The person’s feelings are also important, but it’s possible to convey thoughtfulness and warmth and being specific at the same time. Tell the person what they do (without judging), what this triggers in you (which is usually associated with you as an individual), and what you would like to see instead.  Also be open about the fact that there is no such thing as true feedback. This is only your perception. Not everyone’s.
  6. Receive the reaction to your feedback
    If yougive feedback humbly to someone who has given their OK, the resulting discussion is often good.

Many choose to embrace the feedback for the gift that it is but have a few follow-up questions on what they thought was unclear. This can sometimes be misinterpreted as them getting defensive, which can lead to you wanting to brush their questions aside. Dare to meet the questions with respect, and answer as clearly as you can. Sometimes, you might not have answers to their follow-up questions. It’s of course perfectly OK to say so.

Sometimes the person understands your feedback, but wants to explain something that they feel you haven’t understood. This can also be mistaken for defensive behaviour. Try instead to see the explanations as a complement that can help you to see out through the other person’s tinted glasses, and take in the situation from that perspective instead of from your own. When you have done this, you can decide if you still want the same change or something else.

Some persons may choose to get defensive. For example, they may start criticising you for something you’ve done, or will explain why they deserve your sympathy. It can be unpleasant, and there is a risk that you respond defensively or use the same tone when you respond. Don’t. Take a deep breath and realise that the person in front of you is experiencing the situation as difficult. Be calm. Maybe it’s time to drop it, and trust that your information will slowly absorb. Do not belittle yourself or your experiences.