Leaders, how do you practice inclusive feedback?

Brent Herman our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 08 September 2022

Got a minute? I want to give you some feedback...

Have you ever found yourself on the receiving end or delivery end of this phrase...

Too often, it’s viewed or reciprocated negatively.  Changing this situation will have a positive effect on your intentions to boost inclusivity at work.

As we continue to evolve over the centuries, we have begun to gain more appreciation for the fact that we are not all the same and that this is a wonderful thing! That said, while we recognise differences and can surround ourselves with diversity with relative ease, the hard part is ensuring we are conscious and intentional in demonstrating more inclusion through our day-to-day behaviours. Feedback is one example of where we need to exercise our inclusion mindset and muscle to effectively leverage the diversity around us at work. Inspired by blogs I read by June Yoshinari Davis and Hanna Hart, here are some things to consider in providing inclusive feedback. While not an exhaustive list, strengthening your inclusion muscle is a helpful start. 

To whom are you providing feedback? 

Feedback is a form of evaluation. The minute we evaluate someone about something, we are making a judgment. Judgments always involve bias or unconscious bias. There is a role we must play individually in disrupting our bias/unconscious bias and "checking ourselves" to ensure that this is not negatively biasing our view of someone or how we deliver feedback to them or even the frequency of feedback to that person. Examples of bias that could play out in feedback relate to affinity bias (bias towards those like you) or even confirmation bias (where we pay more attention to information to confirm our beliefs about someone). Both are a slippery slope, and while they may not always come into play, it is always helpful to remind ourselves to pause, reflect and check before we provide feedback to someone.

Recently, I came across a quote that read, "treat others as they would like to be treated rather than as you would like to be treated." 

It resonated for me because its simplicity helps create a benchmark for how to adopt an inclusive mindset when giving someone else feedback. To be able to treat others in a way they would like to be treated means we need to know our colleagues well enough, understand what motivates them and their traits to give feedback to them in a way that allows them to take action while being authentic. This knowledge helps us to land the message in a way that constructively develops and motivates them. In addition, we need to be mindful of the various dimensions of diversity that make the person who they are to land our feedback inclusively:

  • Are we clear on how this person wishes to be addressed based on how they identify/their pronouns?
  • Are we aware of any hidden or visible disabilities to flex our approach accordingly?
  • Are we sure we have tested our assumptions as to the best approach? Sometimes, a person wants to be treated like everyone else rather than differently

How, when and where are you providing feedback?

How we show up when providing inclusive feedback is not only about introspection but also ensuring that we positively impact the environment we create to allow for feedback to be provided in the first place. How we show up comes down to psychological safety (Amy Edmondson) and ensuring that we are mindful of how our behaviour lands with others. If we do not feel safe speaking up and sharing feedback in a supportive way, then feedback may not happen. Creating this environment may require you to:

  • Engage with someone when they give you Feedback and not multitask. Your non-verbal actions speak volumes of your interest or disinterest in the feedback conversation
  • Encourage ideas that people produce during feedback
  • Allow people to learn from mistakes and failures rather than blame them

Beyond our impact on the safe environment that we create for feedback to take place, you should also consider how you deliver feedback:

  • Practice active listening
  • Check back with the person to confirm your understanding of what you are saying
  • Avoid jargon/slang
  • Manage your pace. Speak slower if you need to
  • Give the other person airtime. Take turns to talk
  • Mind your use of humour. We all want to keep things light at work but ensure you are not unintentionally offending someone—feedback on the problem, not the person.

Why are you providing this feedback, and on what?

Feedback can also take various forms, and calling out the type of feedback to deliver is also a means of driving inclusion. In 'Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well', co-authors Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen identify three primary types of feedback:

  • Recognition- Feedback on a job well done
  • Development- Feedback to help someone be even better at what they do
  • Evaluation- Giving someone a view of how they perform against the role's expectations

Ensure your feedback is well prepared and both honest and helpful:

  • The recipient must understand it (be specific and provide an example)
  • The recipient must be able to accept it (be descriptive, refer to successful and unsuccessful behaviour, ensure the recipient is not distracted and provide for feedback discussion)
  • The recipient must be able to do something about it (relate feedback to behaviours that can be changed, identify alternatives and address only one or two significant areas at a time)

You can drive even more impact at work by developing your inclusion muscle more in how you provide inclusive feedback. 

Follow the steps with the pointers above, and you will be well on your way to actively practising inclusion in recognising, developing, or evaluating those around you and creating a safe environment where feedback is encouraged and supportive. 

If you would like to discuss any topics around inclusive feedback or leadership, please reach out to me, Brent, I'd welcome your views or hear how you are progressing your aims in this area.

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