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Feedback skills for women

Workplace feedback is critical for growth of individuals for them to align their goals to that of the organisation, to monitor if they are in the right direction, to measure if their actions are yielding results. When feedback is concerned, Women have to work smarter (and harder) , whether it is giving feedback or seeking feedback

We are constantly getting feedback on our performance. While driving a car, the speedometer gives us feedback as to how fast / slow we are doing, the mileage gives us feedback how well our vehicle is doing vis-a-vis other vehicles of similar category.

Reema’s Story

Reema’s 8-year high growth career in customer support in a cosmetics MNC suddenly looks to be under question. The new manager, Rohan, who is from an FMCG background, seems to be targeting her.

Six months ago, when Rohan was new to the organisation, he did everything feasible to built a rapport with every member of the team, including Reema. The One-on-ones, the group lunch, the informal chatter, and Rohan’s acknowledgement of his lack of knowledge of cosmetic industry and willingness learn, all lead her to believe, he’s the best fit to fill the vacancy created by the previous manager.

Now, six months later, things are not the same as before . During meetings oft times he cuts her half way through her and completes her sentences. When she asked him later, he dismissed it by saying “Oh! I’m just helping you out. You being the only woman in the team, I know you will not heard, so just making your point clearer . Moreover, I saw you fumbling and did not want you to feel guilty about not being able to contribute” Her gentle protest was being ignored.

In her last performance appraisal, he said “Reema, you’re a great asset to the organisation. You are the only woman I know who is career oriented. However, you need to be more assertive”. Reema could not figure out the intent behind this statement, but in the appraisal rating made it was clear, that she would be overlooked for any raise or promotion.

Let’s analyse Reema’s story

What do you think is going on here ?

Let’s analyse as two parts

  1. Upward feedback, i.e. Reema telling her manager about interrupting her doing meetings
  2. Receiving feedback : What does he mean by saying “you have to be more assertive”

We observe what may be called as Manterrupting, A man trying to interrupt and explain what the woman is saying or interrupting when she is saying. In the most infamous presidential debate, Hillary Clinton was Manterrupted 28 times. Surprisingly, The intention may not always be to show her down, but sometimes a phenomenon called benevolent Sexism. (A man coming to rescue of a woman and in the process not giving her space to learn and grow).

Irrespective of what’s happening here, Reema needs to hone her skills on giving upward feedback or giving feedback to the supervisor. The words “giving feedback” is associated with a lot of anxiety, and words upward feedback multiplies the anxiety.

Tips to give feedback above:

  1. Ask yourself : Is the incident one-off or did it happen more than once? You may want to ignore if it is the first time. Does the benefit of givng the feedback out weigh the consequences?
  2. Prepare : The old adage “If you fail to prepare, be prepared to fail”. If possible practice with a friend.
  3. Be in conversation: Don’t forget to seek time before you get in the conversation. Put your point across using SBI (Situation Behaviour Impact) methodology. Always keep your calm
  4. Thank your supervisor: Whether you agree or disagree with the outcome of the conversation, be polite and thank the other person. In case there is a disagreement, thank the other person for their time and tell them you’d like to continue the conversation at a future point in time.

Upward feedback needs to be tactfully handled. Time and place of feedback also plays an important role.

Talking about receiving feedback

If you think the first part is difficult, wait till you understand more about it. According to a study by Stanford University, men receive feedback that is specific and women tend to receive feedback which is vague as in this case “you should be more assertive”. Which means men tend to receive very clear feedback as what they are doing well and what can they do better for reaching the next level. Which also translates to women receiving feedback which is not tied to business outcomes.

How do women manage from here?

There is lots for managers to learn how to de-bias their feedback and be more objective. While the organisations should take the lead in training the managers, women can also take the lead in clarifying the vague feedback. Instead of waiting for receiving feedback or interpreting feedback can we move our frame of reference to seeking feedback.

About Seeking Advice

Whether women did not receive a feedback at all or received vague feedback, they can seek advice and clarify expectations.

In our case, Reema can start by saying “Thank you for your feedback, I’d really like to implement your suggestion. Could you please give me one or two instances, where I can be more assertive.” Observe, the words “one” or “two”, these words lessen the burden on the giver of the feedback and focus on just one or two instances.

If there is no feedback, do take the time from your supervisor and ask, “I want to grow to the next level. What is the one thing you recommend I do to prepare myself for the next level.

Using the words “one” or “two” helps get the advice women need in the moment for advancing their career, or converting the vague feedback. Seeking advice also goes beyond your career, it helps you build rapport and perhaps earn you a future sponsor. The key is to go back to the person and tell them what happened when you implemented their “advise”

The onus is not only on women

HBR Article “Vague Feedback is Holding Women Back” talks about how managers can create a level playing field by becoming more deliberate in how they give feedback.

Further reading

Look up the HBR article “The right way to give negative feedback to your manager

Do read our blog on managing difficult conversations during COVID Times

At Ananya-Women@Work we have a special program for women on “Feedback skills”. Write to us at connect@ananyawomenatwork.com to know more

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