Constructive Feedback and Personal Growth

imagesI have the privilege of being part of a church culture in which honoring others and living out our lives from our identity in Christ are core values.

It is an inherently positive and affirming environment. It helps to produce within the lives of individuals a view of God, others and themselves that is positive, affirming, embracing and self-accepting. I believe it produces a great foundation for an environment of growth and development. When I know I am deeply loved and accepted by a very good God no matter what, I am better positioned to face the deepest issues of my heart with courage to change.

With that said, it is also possible to develop such an aversion to anything that smacks of negative that we inadvertently dismiss some very valid tools, processes and interpersonal skills needed for personal growth and development. Sometime back I read an interesting article entitled, “360 Feedback Can Change Your Life”. In it the author cites a number of examples of real life benefits business executives have received from having one of these surveys taken on them. The idea is to have a number of people with whom the individual works closely assess them on a number of key competencies. These competencies can cover a range of character, leadership, motivation and team building issues.

The fact of the matter is, change is difficult and we humans are prone to view it negatively.

It often takes a good dose of reality to get us to look more honestly at our own behavior and personality as it impacts others. If I never have the chance to receive honest and transparent feedback about how I am coming across and treating others, than I am missing a prime opportunity for growth in my life.

The same applies to any skill we wish to learn or area of performance we wish to excel in. As a coach trainer an important part of the training process I use with students are the practice and feedback sessions. Without great feedback we could simply be reinforcing poor coaching habits vs becoming competent as great coaches.

Yet the very idea of feedback often conjures up images of negative experiences from the past where someone gave us a good piece of their mind that left us feeling more emasculated than empowered.

That kind of feedback is nothing more than criticism and it is certainly very seldom constructive. Even though, if we are open, we can learn from almost any experience.

Many of us suffer from such a fragile self-image that any comment which exposes areas where we could potentially grow is perceived as an attack on our person-hood and we cower into a ball of self-loathing or strike out angrily in self-defense. If this tends to be our common reaction to the spot light aimed at areas where we could grow, this is certainly an area where God desires to bring truth and healing.

As followers of Jesus our lives are to be marked by love – God’s kind of love.

We know this, so we often attempt to maintain the outward demeanor of being loving, positive and affirming (all very good things) but neglect building the kind of relationships that can handle the honest feedback that provides opportunities for significant growth. If high powered business executives can handle it and benefit from it (honest and transparent feedback) why can’t we as followers of Jesus? Our goal after all is to be like Him. But if I am not fully aware of where my behavior is detrimental to myself and others, including the places in my heart that is driving that behavior, I will most likely persists in those ways. Awareness is the first step of change.

Jesus himself gave some pretty pointed feedback to a few people.

His own disciples were at the receiving end on more than one occasion. At one point he said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” Stop and think about that for a moment. How might you have felt as Peter?  And there was James and John when they advanced the idea of bringing fire and brimstone down on a group of people for not believing. Jesus told them they did not know what kind of spirit they were operating from. Or the occasion where, in a kind of exasperation, he said to his disciples, “O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” We won’t even address his “feedback” to the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. Are we to assume he was simply being rude and insensitive on these occasions?

If anyone loved people and wanted to see his best for them, it was Christ.

Jesus never uttered a word that was not out of love. He understood that for people to change there were going to be key times where they would need a good dose of reality regarding their own hearts. Not to discourage them, but to make them aware of areas where they still needed to be transformed. After all, this whole thing of growing and developing and becoming like Christ is a process over the course of our life.

The article went on to cite three key conditions for feedback to have its intended result.

  • First, the person receiving it needs to be willing and ready to change.

A desire to grow, whether that be in a particular skill, work performance, or in our character, is necessary for us to benefit from the input of others in our life. A strong desire to grow makes us more open and available to increase our awareness of where growth needs to happen.

  • Second, the way the feedback is presented is important.

It has to be delivered in a manner that it can be received. Here’s where we need to learn the skill of giving feedback that can provide the best chance of it being received and benefited from.

  • Third, instead of attempting to take on all areas of needed change at once, it is important to focus in on one area and take a few small steps to grow in that area.

God does not deal with us on everything at once, so why should we.

There is an art to giving good feedback.

Perhaps this is an art form that needs to return to the church. Thomas Crane, in his book, The Heart of Coaching, suggests that in order to be most effective, feedback must:

  • Be intended to help, not to control or manipulate
  • Be understood as a subjective interpretation using “I” language
  • Be delivered in the moment (or soon after)
  • Presume innocence – without attributing negative motives
  • Describe observed behaviors and impacts, not evaluate or judge
  • Be authentic and candid – yet compassionate to build trust and respect
  • Stimulate mutual learning and inspire action[i]

Where in your life could you benefit from some constructive feedback? Or, who in your life could benefit from receiving some from you? What could you do about that?

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)

 


[i] The Heart of Coaching, Thomas G. Crane, 2002, pg. 75