Workplace Culture

“Feedback” Is Not a Bad Word

Recently, I have read several articles on why feedback does not work. While I agree that there are ways to give feedback that can make it less useful – and in some cases it may even worsen a situation – in my experience, the right kind of feedback given in the right manner is an impetus for learning and growth.

“Feedback” seems to be undergoing a kind of semantic change. Semantic change occurs when the definition of a word evolves, eventually coming to mean something radically different than its original connotation. For example, “awful” originally meant to be full of awe. Today, it means very bad or unpleasant – a dramatic semantic shift. While “feedback” used to be value-neutral, it is now often interpreted as negative. For example, your supervisor telling you they are going to give you “feedback on your performance” is not likely to make you feel happy and calm.

Receiving feedback should not be intimidating or make us feel insecure. Rather, we should see feedback as an opportunity to draw on the strengths of our team and seek out support and coaching from those around us. While we know that by leveraging our strengths, we are able to give the best efforts in our roles, we also all have areas of weakness, blind spots, tasks that we find difficult, or new skills that we are striving to master. Because of this, we should invite feedback, not draw away from it.

When I was 12 years old, I had to participate in a public speaking event for a local community group. My fear got the best of me, and I couldn’t sleep for nights before the event. To calm myself, I memorized every single word of my speech. On the night of the performance, despite my legs literally shaking, I did not miss a word. I won the event – but I was horrified. Winning meant I was to proceed to the regional competition. What happened between that night and the next competition was some serious feedback and coaching from my mother, along with hours of practice. I wanted to improve, but at 12 years old, my knowledge of public speaking was limited.

Feedback can be a powerful force in our development, especially when it is coupled with coaching.

My mother offered me straightforward feedback on what I should improve, but she also went beyond merely giving advice. She asked me what I thought I needed to get better at and how I thought I could accomplish my goals, and then she offered me her insights and ideas. As a result, I slept much better the night before the regional competition, my nerves were calmer, and my speech was much more polished. The way my mother offered feedback in tandem with coaching helped me feel confident that I was up to the challenge.

While I did not win the regional competition, the experience taught me a valuable lesson about feedback – it is useful, valuable, and necessary for improvement. Feedback can be a powerful force in our development, especially when it is coupled with coaching. Whether we are trying to learn something new or improve on something we’ve previously struggled with, we need feedback and coaching to help us along. Let’s not see feedback as a scary word – instead, let’s celebrate the way it can draw out the best in ourselves and others.

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Wendy Loewen

Managing Director

Wendy is co-author of ACHIEVE’s book, The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work. This book is available on our website.

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