Three kinds of peer to peer feedback

Here’s a perspective on feedback. It is a gift.

As such, when you receive feedback from a peer, what is the first thing you might say?

“Thank you.”

Gary RyanThis perspective can help those of you whom struggle with what you are going to say when a peer provides you with feedback, including whether or not you invited their feedback. No matter what they say, you’re going to say, “Thank you.”

Let’s continue with the ‘feedback as a gift‘ metaphor.

Have you ever received a real gift that was, well, not very good?

When you first received that gift, what did you say?

“Thank you.”

When you receive feedback from your peers, sometimes it will not be for you, nor about you. Below are the three kinds of feedback that you can expect to receive from your peers.

1. The feedback is for you, about you and immediately useful

The socks I receive from my children for Father’s Day are for me, about me and immediately useful. Sometimes your peers will provide you with feedback that fits into this category. You recognise that what you have been told is for you, about you and is immediately useful. You can apply the feedback and make improvements. For example, you may have given a presentation and a peer suggests that you change the italic font that you have been using because it is difficult for some people to read. You take the feedback on board and make the change.

2. The feedback is for you, about you, but not immediately useful

If you have ever received a thick book for your birthday, but your birthday falls during an exceptionally busy time of the year, then you’ll understand what this category is all about. You literally place the book on a shelf until you have an opportunity (usually during your holidays) to read the book.

Sometimes you will recognise the feedback that your peer is giving you is for you and about you, but it might not be immediately useful because you need some time to process it. At a point down the track, after you have made sense of it, you can then do something about it. For example, a peer informs you that you constantly cut people off when they are speaking. Maybe you’ve been doing this for a long time and no one has ever told you.

You believe that you are a good listener. You recognise that your peer was genuine when they told you this information. So you literally press ‘Pause’ and raise your awareness of this potential issue so that you can gather more data. After a couple of weeks of being more conscious of this issue you recognise that it is accurate. You have collected data that supports that you do, in fact, cut people off when they are speaking. Now you can do something with that feedback to improve your listening skills.

3. The feedback is for you, but not about you, nor is it useful

When my wife turned 30 I bought her a PlayStation. I had seen her playing solitaire on her computer and figured that she needed a proper gaming machine. I may have also wanted to play Shane Warne’s Cricket on her PlayStation too!

Was my gift really for my wife, or was it really for me? Hmmm…

Fortunately I had also bought her some jewellery that she did want!

Some feedback that you receive from your peers fits into this third category. It is  for you but it’s not about you. It’s about them.

Your peer is simply trying to tell you how you can be more like them.

For example, you may be told, “You should get to meetings five minutes early because it helps you to properly prepare for the meeting.”

Feedback like this is really your peer imposing their perspective on the world on to you.

What to do

When you receive feedback from a peer, say “Thank you” and then categorise the feedback into one of the above three types. If it fits in to one of the first two categories then you will take it on board. If it fits into the third category then you have the right to ignore it.

Of course the reverse is true. When you are providing a peer with feedback, first ask yourself, “Am I just trying to tell them how they can be more like me?

If your answer is, “Yes”, then keep your feedback to yourself!

Gary Ryan enables talented professionals, their teams and organisations to move Beyond Being Good®

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