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Webinar Offers Chance to Improve Giving, Accepting Constructive Feedback

A man and a woman sitting across from one another in a business meeting

Dr. Shanita Williams thinks about feedback a little differently than many people. Good, constructive feedback, she said, is valuable personal and professional information.

“It’s someone else’s perspective of how I’m manifesting in the world,” Williams said. “Every time we’re presented with, I call it the gift of feedback, it’s an opportunity to learn.”

Williams, assistant vice president of talent engagement and inclusion at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), was speaking to a group of Walgreens employees, who attended a webinar this month titled "The Art and Science of Feedback.” The webinar was offered to the employees as part of Walgreens’ partnership with SNHU.

The webinar was one of two offered to Walgreens employees in November in honor of Veterans Day. Earlier in the month, 23-year U.S. Army veteran Derek Felder, who teaches in SNHU’s healthcare administration program, presented “Lead to Inspire: Understanding, Supporting and Honoring All Who Served.”

Williams, who published “Feedback Mentality: The Key to Unlocking and Unleashing Your Full Potential” in 2020, spoke to the employees about multiple aspects of feedback, including its benefits and tips to both accept and give constructive feedback. By accepting honest feedback, she said, you can:

Infographic with text Achieve personal and professional goals Increase your confidence  Improve relationships  Increase your self-awareness  Unlock and unleash your full potential

But accepting feedback isn’t always easy. In an informal poll of her own professional network, 70% of people said they’d cried or felt depressed at least once after receiving feedback. At the same time, Office Vibe’s 2020 survey showed 28% of employees said they don’t get enough feedback to understand how to improve. Williams said there are often specific “triggers” that can make it difficult to accept feedback. These triggers come from “Thanks for the Feedback” by Sheila Heen. 

  • Relationship Triggers – The feedback is coming from someone you don’t have a good relationship with or don’t trust
  • Truth Triggers – You fundamentally disagree with the facts of what someone is saying 
  • Identity Triggers – The feedback challenges who you are or your values

Identifying if one or more of those areas are being triggered by feedback you are receiving gives you the opportunity to step back, ask questions about what the other person is saying to you and better process the feedback.

“You want to pause and check in and say, ‘what’s at play here?’ because that awareness gives you an opportunity to try to shift it,” Williams said. 

She shared a system she uses to better understand and accept feedback that she calls OPEN.

  • Observe – Be aware of your thoughts and body language 
  • Probe – Demonstrate curiosity and ask questions to better understand
  • Express – Acknowledge that someone giving you feedback is sharing information and express your thanks.
  • Next Steps – Focus on what you want to do net with the feedback.

How to Give Effective Feedback

While much of the webinar focused on how to best accept feedback, Williams also spoke about the importance of giving feedback. If you avoid giving someone feedback at appropriate times, you could be depriving them of information they could use to improve themselves or their performance at their job. She shared another acronym she uses called GIFT.

  • Give – Don’t hoard your feedback. Ask yourself if it was you, would you want to know? 
  • Intent – Make sure you’re honestly trying to help someone, rather than being critical of their actions
  • Focus – Concentrate on the person’s behavior and offer or be willing to brainstorm specific solutions.
  • Timely – Give feedback close in time to the event; it is more impactful.

Giving and receiving feedback can be complicated and sometimes difficult, Williams said. If you can think of feedback as more information about yourself – rather than criticism – you can use it to your advantage.

“It helps us build a narrative and a story about how we want to move forward,” she said. “I think feedback helps us truly know more about ourselves.”

Dr. Shanita Williams with the text Dr. Shanita Williams

Williams said she hoped the Walgreens employees who attended the webinar will be able to apply the principles she spoke about to their jobs, including the importance of feedback as information to consider, how to be thoughtful about how to deliver feedback and to think of giving and receiving feedback as a skill that takes practice. 

“Feedback has the power to help you grow, develop and push you to higher heights both personally and professionally. Poorly delivered feedback also has the power to stop you in your tracks, let the imposter syndrome take over – preventing people from pursuing careers, relationships and even their dreams,” Williams said. “I want to help people develop healthy habits around the feedback experience so that they can feel empowered to realize their full potential.” 

Christine Rivera, career development principal at Walgreens, said communication is an important part of the work Walgreens employees do every day so the opportunity to think critically about giving and receiving feedback was valuable.

“In our industry communication is the key to success and giving or receiving feedback isn’t always easy,” she said. “SNHU provided a welcomed resource to help our team members apply feedback techniques in their jobs.”  

Joe Cote is a staff writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Follow him on Twitter @JoeCo2323.

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