“Can I give you some feedback?” is a question filled with emotion, for both parties. When and how should you ask it? And how should you respond to it? There are layers to these questions that are worth considering, especially when giving peer feedback. Let’s take a closer look.
We can assume that if you are asking the question, “Can I give you some feedback?” that you have something you want the other person to know about what they did or the outcome of that behavior. But beyond the assumption, what is your intent in wanting to share that information.
Is your intent to help them and make them aware, or do you want to correct them and feel bad about what happened? When you ask the question, the other person is assessing your intent before they answer your question. Hopefully, our intent is positive and helpful, and even so, recognize that the other person may be making a different assessment.
If, when you honestly assess your intention you can say it isn’t fully positive, then please don’t ask the question. Reframe your intention, and probably the message itself, before you ask if you can give them that feedback – because your intention may be coming through loud and clear to them.
Why This is Important
There are a couple reasons why this is a sticky question. Let’s start with the word feedback itself.
If you hear this statement at work: “I need to give Jose some feedback about that,” what are you thinking? I have a good guess because I have asked hundreds of people that question. The first, and often prevailing answer is that people wonder what Jose did wrong. In other words when we hear the word “feedback,” we hear something “negative.”
So that means, when you ask, “Can I give you some feedback?” they hear “This person wants to tell me something I did wrong.” Most people, most of the time, aren’t going to jimp at the chance to hear this information.
Also, if you are a peer, people may not be used to getting feedback from you. This puts you at a disadvantage in two ways:
- They aren’t used to peer feedback – so they aren’t expecting this kind of information from you
- They first reaction is that you are going to tell them about something they did wrong
No wonder this is can be a sticky situation.
This is why your intention is so important. Even if your intent is to be helpful and supportive, it might not be seen that way. Knowing that you may want to share more about your intention, instead of simply asking the question without context. Perhaps, “I noticed something you might not be aware of yesterday, can I give you some feedback on what I saw?” might have a better chance for acceptance, and would likely make the conversation more comfortable for both of you.
If They Say No
But what if you ask, and they don’t want the feedback? First of all, don’t be surprised. Now you have more context as to why they might decline. Depending on the nature of the feedback. Maybe you ask again, clarifying your intention, or ask again later, but ultimately, if they decline, it is best for you to let it go.
After all, sharing it after they say they don’t want it, won’t likely go well, because they are on the defensive, and likely won’t receive the feedback – even if it is positive – very well.
Improving Your Odds
I’ve given you a couple of ways to improve the odds that people will hear the feedback you offer. But if you get more declines to your offer of feedback, what can you do, long term to improve the acceptance of your insights?
- Build trust with them. You are far more open to accepting (corrective) feedback from those you trust – and so are others. Peer feedback is easier to give and receive when the trust between the parties is high.
- Give them more positive feedback. Chances are when it is positive, you don’t ask for permission. Share encouragement and authentic positive feedback, and people will come to be more open to any observations that might not be all positive.
- Ask for feedback. Start asking them for their observations about how you are doing. When you ask for and accept their feedback, over time they will be more open to hearing yours.
Peer feedback can be sticky and dramatic, but it doesn’t have to be. When you apply the ideas in this article, the next time you ask, “Can I give you some feedback?” will be less awkward and more successful.
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