Both in giving and receiving it… We need to practice giving clear indications of how much of a message sent us is actually received and also train our senses to observe clearly how our messages are responded to by others.
To start, let us say that all human beings need the contact of relationships and that all organizations and the people in them do not operate in a vaccum. Even hermits, living in a cave in a mountainside, have contacts with the environment which make it essential that they responds. When they are hungry, they must find food, responding to the message from their stomachs. When they feel the cold wind blow they respond by seeking shelter or putting on protective clothing. Although hermits may have little verbal communication, they still must be involved in sensing feedback and adjusting their moves to what happens to them in their surroundings.
Because few of us are hermits in this same sense, we need to adjust not just to the cold or to hunger, but to the constant stream of messages we get from others in the course of a day. The number of messages we send or receive may vary just as our ability to react appropriately may vary from one person to another. In this way we begin to identify those who can give clear instructions, those who can do what they are asked, those who can understand complex information, those who have difficulty in grasping new ideas. Much of the ability to perform well in assignments is related to the ability to give and receive feedback. The sensitive person can pick up the cues offered by another who does not understand some instructions — maybe it is the professor responding to a quizzical look on the face of a student, and then asking “What is not clear in what we have been saying?” The sensitive person also can predict what parts of a message may be subject to confusion, and restate or clarify those parts without even being asked, simply because he or she has anticipated the hearer’s confusion.
In communication , people need to share meanings of words and messages. It is important for them to know that communication is transactional — that is, it takes place between people under some kinds of rules which we agree to follow. One of the rules is that if someone looks angrily at us after we have made a remark, we need to figure out what it was we said to make that person angry. Another rule is that if the listener smiles and nods, we are thereby permitted to continue with that kind of message. So our transactions are affected by the kinds of feedback we receive — whether negative, which pulls us up short, or positive, which encourages us to go ahead. Words don’t mean, people mean and meaning is the relationship we make between a word and what the word stands for. Meaning is the key to communication. Meaning is what communication is about. When we communicate with one another, we are attempting to translate in to a symbolic system (language) a meaning we have in our head so that another person, upon seeing or hearing the symbolic system, will translate it back into a meaning similar to ours. The key here is that the function of the symbols we use is to make meanings appear in people’s minds. If the symbols elicit similar meanings in different people, then these people understand the message. If the meanings we have for words vary from person to person, so do our emotions vary. It is important in our communication transactions to be aware of both content and emotion.
There is a tendency in all of us to sometimes pretend we understand when we really do not. It is not considered intelligent to ask, “what do you mean by…? and we may try to avoid looking stupid. As a result, we may miss some important messages by pretending and give the other person feedback which is false. Two factors are important here: first, that we try to give more honest feedback about our depth of understanding, and second, that we make it easy for the other person to say he or she does not understand. If you can reduce the other person’s anxiety about asking questions by suggesting in advance that you may not be making it clear, you may receive more honest feedback. On the other hand, we may have to swallow our pride and admit we do not understand, and thus provide more honest feedback to the other person’s message.
Preparing the way for a message has been called “feedforward” for an obvious reason — it sets up the possibility of getting feedback. Making use of appropriate feedforward, should assist the feedback process. You may also precede a statement you make with a feedforward phrase such as, “If you have no plans for tonight… ” or Let’s talk about next week’s assignment…” which gives the cues to your listener that you expect a response and what directions the discussion is going to take.
The modification or control of a process using its anticipated results or effects.
The concept of feedforward should not be described as apart from feedback, but rather as a specialized activity within a total feedback system. Feedforward will help anticipate actions.
Two people riding together on a bus as strangers will make a number of moves to test whether or not the other is ready to talk, and what they will they talk about. Feeding forward in our communication will usually result in more appropriate responses in one another as we begin to operate the give-and-take of communication.
Also, emotion is involved in the feedback process. Our attention to feedback will help us verify who we are in relation to others, as well as what is said. We discover who we are by watching the reactions of others. How others see us, will significantly improved when we are given feedback. Just having feedback available, however, is not enough. We need to know how to handle it — that is, how to give it appropriately and how to receive it intelligently.
Some Suggestions for Giving and Receiving Feedback in Human Communication follow
1.) Focus Feedback on Behaviors rather than on the Person
We generally can look more objectively on what we do than what somebody says we are. Our behaviors, or actions, are only a momentary part of us and therefore we feel more comfortable about being challenged to change them. If someone calls us “dishonest,” it sounds quite different from their saying we acted “dishonestly” in a given situation. We cannot tolerate very well an attact on “us” which is what much criticism sounds like. If someone is critical of our behavior, we can more easily accept responsibility for that action, rather than tell ourselves we are a product of our genetic inheritance and for that reason cannot possibly be blamed nor think of changing.
Behaviors include those things a person does well as much as the things done badly. In describing behaviors we tend to concentrate on those which need improvement, but a person can often learn much from feedback about those actions which facilitate, support, or improve communication. Descriptions of behaviors should not be evaluative or selective, but should comment on what went on.
2.) Focus Feedback on Observations rather than Inferences
Observations are those things which could be seen or heard by anyone, but inferences are your own interpretations or conclusions about what went on. If we spice our observations with inferences, we tend to obscure feedback, so we must be careful to differenciate when we are making inferences, or extentions of our observations.
Observations involve what is going on, not what happened at some previous time or some persistent characterisitcs you have noticed over a long period. Research of Journal applied Behavioral Sciences has shown that feedback given as soon as appropriate after observation will be more specific, more concrete, and generally more accurately reported.
3.) Focus Feedback on Description rather than Judgment
As in case of focusing on behaviors, to use description is to avoid evaluation of the other person or of his or her actions. Description attempts to remain neutral, but judgment takes sides.
Concentrate on the “what” rather than the “why.” Again the “what” of the behavior is observable by bothers and therefore can be checked for accuracy. The “why” of a person’s behavior is inferred and leads us into the dangerous area of ‘intentions” and “motives” and the emotionalism which goes with it. It may be useful at times to explore the “why” of behaviors, but this should be done with the help and consent of the person being discussed. Most of us enjoy playing “shrink” to all our friends, but we should realize that our analysis of the other person’s behaviors may be more subject to our own aberrations than to theirs. If we concentrate on the ‘why,” we may miss much of the very useful “what” of feedback.
4.) Focus Feedback on Sharing of Ideas and Information rather than on Giving Advice
a. We need to feel a joint responsibility for the outcome of the feedback encounter and be ready to assist the other rather than direct his or her responses.
b. Telling another what to do with the information we give does not leave them free to determine what the appropriate course of action for them will be. Advice giving is a poor attempt at problem solving which does not give the other person leeway to make his or her own choices.
c. Explore alternatives rather than provide solutions. If we concentrate on a variety of available responses, we can help move toward a more satisfactory answer. Too often we have ready at hand a list of solutions waiting for the problems to come along which might fit. When we offer a solution, ready-made from our own experience, it may not be useful to someone based on his or her experience or because the problem may not be exactly as we saw it.
5.) Focus Feedback on What It May Do to Who Receive It
a. If giving feedback is only making you feel good, you may not be helping as much as you are imposing.
b. Be aware of how much feedback another person can handle at one time. Avoid the long recitation “and then you did…” after the recipcient has given you some feedback that he or she is full to the brim. After that time you are only satisfying your own need, and not the other person’s need.
c. Emotional reactions may result when feedback is given at the wrong time or place. This is particularly true in the more sensitive and personal areas of human behavior. Even if you have some worthwhile points to make, they should be presented with the recipient in mind.
1. information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement
2. the modification or control of a process or system by its results or effects, e.g. in a biochemical pathway or behavioral response.