In an earlier post I was considering the difference between Feedback and Criticism. If you are interested you can read about it here:
I was reminded of it a week or so back when I was with a few participants on a short course. We were discussing some aspects of blogging. I am in a phase of very intense learning which I expect is going to last a long time. A pattern of learn consolidate, learn consolidate, seems to work best for me. I have to experience and play with what I am learning. I have to TOY with it. I appreciated the feedback I received, it was part of the learn consolidate cycle.
Giving and receiving feedback is essential to learning change and growth, for individuals personal relationships, as well as in teams and organisations.
You tend to find that there is more learning from the consolidation phases than you can easily quantify or imagine. The feedback is unexpected and more powerful. The learning itself becomes much broader learning, as discernment comes into play. What started out as practising the skill you learned becomes something bigger when you DO IT in real life. You start to generate different questions than when you were doing something in the simple process of learning it.
If you are curious many of those questions will be internal. Whilst you learn in isolation you learn to accept silence. As you start to practice what you are learning in context – which means in public – you start to experience feedback.
This feedback can come in many forms, from how your body feels as you start to change your diet, to how well your clothes fit when you stop exercising. The impact of your actions has an effect.
The effect you have is feedback.
When you change your actions because you have learned something new, there will be a reaction of some sort from the wider system. The same applies in teams and organisations. If you change the way you do something, hopefully it will have an effect, an impact on others, in the way you planned. It is also likely to have an effect in unexpected ways. Feedback will arrive. It might be in conversations to you, it might be with suggestions or complaints.
It also might be silence. Silence is a special sort of feedback and your job as a leader is to be sure what that silence means.
Acceptance: are people thinking “well yes that works, nothing to say, let’s get on with it” ? On the surface this could be a great thing, people are ” aligned” and “professional”. It could be a deep appreciation for the reasons and the context behind the changes and a realisation it is a good thing to do. If you work with a team like that the chances are you have spent time building up that level of awareness. People are getting on with it because they are 80-100 per cent behind it.
Have you spent that time? Are they 80-100 percent behind it?
If the answer to both those questions is an honest yes, the changes you are making have a very good chance of being successful.
My opinion isn’t important / what do I know: If you are working in an environment that requires “intellectual capital” this is an attitude that MUST be explored. Is it a new inexperienced team member? Is the person losing confidence? What factors might be at play that has led the person (or people) you are leading to think their opinion doesn’t matter? How have you demonstrated their role is to think about and comment on what is happening because that is how THEY and YOU and the ORGANISATION learn?
Apathy: This is evident when people no longer provide any verbal feedback of any sort, no comments, no questions, no adjustments, no counter suggestions. Has there ever been a time when you did get commentary, questions and observations but it has all stopped?
Chances are the silence is apathy. Apathy is very limiting. For the people affected it can be soul and career destroying. If you want your changes to have long-term positive impact, apathy is something that has to be investigated in its own right. What are the causes? Take the time to understand how and when the apathy arose. Don’t assume that the silence of apathy will still give your changes a good chance of success, it won’t. Apathy has a close neighbour.
Fear: People can be fearful for all sorts of reasons. Permanent fearlessness is a rare and potentially dangerous attribute. Even the most forthright people have times when fear sets in. Observant, intelligent people ( the sort you want to lead right?) consider the consequences of their actions in advance. They learn from what has happened in the past too. Both of these qualities are essential for any success to happen. However if fear is the root of the silence and you don’t explore it, failure is likely. There is nothing inherently wrong with fear. This is evolution at work. The emotion of fear is behind freeze, flight or fight responses. If Fear leads to silence anyone of those responses could ensue. Silently
Not being able to function well – Frozen.
Not wanting to hang around, leaving early, doing the hours, resignations – Flight
Being angry, unhelpful and presenting obstacles that don’t need to be there – Fight
Silence is at best the result of conversation and deep mutual understanding. Which takes commitment and time and honesty. Only then will the silence be an easy silence
Taking the time to reflect on the feedback you are getting, particularly if it is silence becomes essential when leading and making change happen. Investigate where the silence comes from before making assumptions.
And if you find you don’t like continued silence, give some of your own, in a generous and helpful way.
Feedback is the life blood of change. Donate
What effect does silence have on you? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.