What is feedback and what is its purpose?
The way we see ourselves is different from the way others see us. Our actions have motives that are obvious to us, but not obvious to others. The same goes for other people: they may not even realize that they are doing something wrong. If we don’t want to have conflicts and misunderstandings because of difference between our perception of ourselves and how we behave in reality, we sometimes need to ask colleagues, friends and loved ones how they perceive our behavior in certain situations. This is called a request for feedback.
In today's world, constructive feedback is widely used by people in work and learning process because it is a great source of development. It is useful when you receive a constructive feedback on your behavior in a particular situation, and you draw the conclusions to do better in a similar situation next time.
For example, it is customary to ask participants about their impressions of the program, accommodation, group atmosphere and even food during international youth exchanges, organized by the youth center where I am doing my ESC. When we plan our next youth exchanges, we take into account wishes and ideas of former participants to make youth exchanges better for future participants. At the same time, when we ask participants to provide feedback, we give them opportunity to reflect on their own experience and feelings, which is also useful for the learning process.
Me and my colleagues meet after each project and give each other a feedback on the work done. This allows us to understand what went well and what we need to improve next time, to evaluate the quality of teamwork and the effectiveness of our communications.
Feedback in a multicultural environment
During my voluntary year in Germany I realized that feedback is essential for the effective and non-violent communication between people with different cultural backgrounds. What may be part of an ancient tradition in one culture may not necessarily be understood by representatives of another culture. A nod in Bulgaria means no, but in France it means yes. In Ukraine a 15-minute delay may not be a problem, but in Germany it can be perceived as disrespect. There are many such cultural features in each country and they influence the behavior of people in different fields. Therefore, people from different countries who are trying to work together or even build personal relationships should exchange constructive feedback to learn more about each other's motives. «I respect you and your culture, but your behavior is unusual for me because we don't do it in my country. I suggest you to talk about this and think together what to do next», - perhaps if people talked more often with each other in this way, there would be far less wars and hate in the world.
How to give feedback
When people ask me for feedback, I consider this as a demonstration of confidence and I respect this. So here are some rules I follow when I give feedback to others.
Try to start with things that went well. The positive can be found in every situation. This will cheer your conversationalist up and also will help to ease the situation.
Give only constructive feedback. «I don't like it, but I don't know why» - it's not feedback. If you criticize a person, you should not only explain what he/she did wrong, but also express an idea of what can be done to make it better. If you do not know how it should be, how can you demand it from others?
Try to be objective, separate emotions from facts. Even if someone's behavior has angered you, don't allow yourself to judge someone, don't get personal. Aggressive tone and words don't promote calm dialogue, but rather provoke aggression in return.
Remember that you don't have a monopoly on the truth, and even if you have more experience, you are not perfect and you can also be wrong. Try to describe what you saw without judgment, just help the person see how his/her actions looked like from the outside.
Respect the otherness of the person you give feedback to. If this person does one way or another, he/she has reasons for doing so, and you have to respect those reasons. When you give feedback, speak for yourself, because you can’t know for sure what other people feel and think.
Always keep in mind that different people have different tastes and that one man's meat is another man's poison. Maybe something that you didn't like is not bad in itself, maybe you just have a bias against certain things. That is why, give feedback on actions, not on personality and don’t try to remake somebody in your own image. Remember that your feedback can be rejected and it is possible that nothing will change after it.
How to receive feedback
Based on my personal experience, getting feedback is psychologically harder than giving it, because sometimes you have to hear not-so-nice or even unexpected things about your actions. Asking for feedback is a brave step, which means that the person is ready to work on himself/herself and to learn from failure. Such brave people also need to remember a few things.
First, don't take feedback personally. Sometimes it really hurts to hear. But if this feedback is honest and professional, there is a lot that can be learned.
Second, take criticism critically. You have the right to disagree with it and to question it.
Third, don't defend yourself, especially when nobody attacks you. You have the right to be yourself and to be free in your choice, if it doesn’t jeopardize the rights of others.