Can I just rant for a moment?

Have you ever noticed how asking for feedback sometimes invites frivolous, nonsensical, and insignificant information? Do some people believe that ‘I don’t have anything to offer’ is not an acceptable response? Why do they feel compelled to fill the dead air with something/anything?

I’ve encountered a couple of situations recently that bring this problem into clear focus.

A mid-level manager solicited feedback from her team on a variety of leadership competencies as part of her professional development. The analysis report was confusing, so I was asked to come in and gain a better understanding of the situation. Interviews with her staff revealed that two individuals over-emphasized issues that they admitted were not important because they “figured that’s what the questionnaire was looking for.”

A client shared very significant feedback that would have changed the direction and outcomes of a high-stakes project. When a meeting was requested to explore his perspective and revise the plan, he replied, “I’m really swamped. Just never mind. I’m good with what you originally submitted.”

A request for feedback is not an envelope that must be filled with something/anything just to get it off your desk. A request for feedback is:

  • An invitation to engage in an important dialogue… one that you can decline if you’re not available or have nothing to offer.
  • A sacred trust… an opening from someone who values your opinion and is making him/herself vulnerable in the process.
  • A moment in time when you can make a significant difference – to a person, process, or project.

The opportunity to offer feedback in support of others is serious business. So to make sure that your feedback is focused rather than frivolous, ask yourself the following questions.

How hard am I having to work to come up with an answer?

If you are racking your brain and struggling to respond, you may not have any feedback to share. Going back in time, dredging up unrelated examples, trying to connect dots where they don’t exist does not generate meaningful or actionable feedback. So, just forget it.

How important is it?

You can likely find something to say in response to any feedback request, but what difference will it make? So, the person’s voice is a bit high… or if he or she uses a different process to get to the same results. If you can’t come up with a ‘so what’, it’s likely not worth passing along. So, just forget it.

How much am I willing to invest in helping the person address it?

This is key. Important, relevant feedback is significant enough that you should be willing to provide additional information, context, or support so that the person requesting it can take action. If it’s not worth it to you to make that investment, that might be an indicator that it doesn’t warrant sharing. So, just forget it.

Feedback requests aren’t obligations that require you to go through the motions and check the boxes. They are an honor bestowed upon you by someone who believes that you have something to offer. If you do, pass your feedback along generously. If not, just forget it.

What about you? How cavalier are you with your feedback? How do you keep it real and valuable?