It’s a well-known saying that bread is the staff of life. At beaton, we say feedback is as important to the health and functioning of the relationship between professional services firms and their clients, as good bread is to nutritional and physical health. To be useful, bread must be ingested, digested and absorbed – and in a scriptural sense, thanks given. So too with feedback, it must be received, understood and acted on – and the receipt of feedback must be acknowledged and the feedback giver appropriately thanked.
Trouble is, all too often feedback giving and receiving doesn’t work in this way.
Feedback improves our performance in anything and everything we do: solving problems at work, improving personal relationships, lifting sporting performance, even winning online games. Feedback closes the loop that allows us to learn about ourselves from our experiences – and our clients.
This is why firms and practitioners that are truly open to feedback continuously improve.
Since 2003, beaton has provided larger law, accounting, consulting engineering and other professional services firms with feedback from the marketplace and their clients on the health of their brands and the calibre and competitiveness of their performance from clients in serving clients.
beatonbenchmarks measures and compares firms at the level of their relationship with their clients.
Since 2016 we have been offering beatondebrief to firms as a turn-key solution for sourcing actionable, real time, granular feedback at project level (transactions). The essence of the success of beatondebrief is the authenticity, specificity and immediacy of the feedback received.
This testimonial from Sam Nickless, Chief Operating Officer of Gilbert + Tobin tells the story:
“We were delighted to be an early adopter of beatondebrief. Timely feedback on specific matters allows us to quickly understand and act on opportunities to improve our clients’ experience. In addition to our own direct conversations, there is real value in an independent, benchmarked channel for client feedback, one that clients can use consistently across their providers.”
So, let’s look at how to derive the most value and good feelings from the feedback you receive from beatondebrief and other sources.
Getting the most out of feedback
Research shows that most feedback doesn’t effect change / improvement in the receiver. And the major reason for this is that feedback is a two-sided process. Feedback involves the giver (your client) and the receiver (you, your colleagues and your firm).
Traditionally, almost all of the focus has been on feedback giving. The art of receiving and managing feedback has been neglected in research, training and practice.
Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen of Harvard published Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well. The subtitle of their Introduction nails the key issue in just three words: ‘From Push to Pull’. In other words, shift the emphasis from giving feedback effectively (push) to receiving it with practical consequences (pull).
If we receive feedback with sincere intent, then we hear it, interpret it, and consciously decide what to do with it. Note, consciously deciding what to do with feedback does not mean blindly, uncritically accepting the feedback as gospel, correct and something with which we are obliged to agree. After all, it’s feedback – and even if it’s from your client – it’s not a command to be obeyed.
Which is why saying – and meaning – Thank you for the feedback is such a crucial skill and necessity.
You want the giver to know you have heard and value their feedback. Not only to show appreciation (feedback often takes courage to give), but also to encourage the person to keep on giving your feedback. You don’t want to be deprived of the opportunity, do you?
Blockers to feedback being received
Most of us fear receiving feedback. And the tougher the feedback, or the expectation that the feedback is going to be tough, the greater our fear. We get anxious. We may deny the reality. We may sweat, our heart pounds, we may even get angry.
Three things trigger our negative reactions to feedback – and therefore deny the receiver the benefits and opportunity of hearing and using it. And leave the giver feeling unappreciated. I will summarise each trigger and how as a receiver you can deal with it.
Truth triggers. Truth triggers are those that occur when we feel the content of the feedback is wrong, unfair and/or not helpful. The giver, in our opinion, has simply missed the mark. There are three ways to deal with your reaction to these truth triggers:
Make sure you’ve understood the content and the intent of the feedback. Once receipt of a red flag email from beatondebrief, pick up the phone, thank the giver and play back a summary of what you think you’ve heard. Once you’ve checked and know what’s being said, you can act with confidence to restore your client’s trust. Likewise a green flag email: Say thank you in person and ask for a recommendation or referral, where appropriate.
Separate evaluative feedback from complimentary appreciation. The difference depends on the context. “Keep up the good work” may mean “Good try, but there’s more for you to do” or it might mean “Well done, it’s a great job you’ve just completed”. Before you react, be clear what the feedback means!
Be aware of your blind spots. Remember Robbie Burns, the Scottish poet: “Oh would some power the gift give us, To see ourselves as others see us”. The feedback giver is seeing something important that you can’t – or don’t want to.
Relationship triggers. Relationship triggers, unlike truth triggers, stem from the giver – their body language, choice of words and/or whether you feel they are credible and respectful. There are two ways to deal with your reaction to a relationship trigger:
Separate the message from the messenger, i.e. the content from the giver. Disentangle the two. And then hold two separate conversations about each with your client.
Analyse the relationship between the giver and the receiver. What dynamics are at work? How are they interfering with how the feedback is being given and how it’s being received? Keep cool and open. Listen.
Identity triggers. Identity triggers threaten ‘Who I am’, your sense of identity. These triggers are not about content (truth triggers) or the giver (relationship triggers), they are about you and how you think you are performing. An identity trigger causes you to question yourself and your narrative about your ability. They throw you off balance and make you defensive. There are three ways to deal with your reaction to an identity trigger:
Get to know your own temperament and how you are wired. Know what gets under your skin – and learn to manage these triggers.
Keep all feedback in perspective. Don’t catastrophise the trivial.
View these identity triggers as helpful stimuli that make you stop and think. “You could be right. What might I be like if I responded differently in future situations like this?” Use identity triggers as welcome opportunities to learn; don’t see them as insults or assaults.
This post was inspired by Dr Margaret Beaton's work on the importance of acknowledging feedback and the skills involved, and by a conversation with Petra Stirling, Executive Leader of Gilbert + Tobin responsible, inter alia, for organisation development. I thank you both.
To learn more about beatondebrief, contact our product leader, Marc Ewen: firstname.lastname@example.org or +61 426 251 868.