Fearless Feedback is a phrase that can be introduced to teams and organizations as common language with a shared understanding. It signals delivery of direct, constructive and well intentioned feedback. If introduced well, it can help build a positive feedback culture.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Fearless Feedback

Giving and receiving feedback in the workplace is difficult. Many people fear both giving it and receiving it. Changing this mindset and giving people to permission and confidence to deliver both helpful and constructive feedback is very challenging. One thing that can help with this is the introduction of common language and phrases.

Common language is a powerful tool because it creates a shared understandings of situations, actions and emotions that make it easier for people to communicate. Effective common language reduces the chance of misunderstanding and consequently increases the effectiveness of communication.

“Fearless Feedback” is a phrase that can be introduced into a team or an organization to help create common language in relation to feedback. Once the language has been introduced, individuals in the organization can say “I’m going to give you some fearless feedback now” and proceed to do so.

Because the common language, the phrase “fearless feedback”, has been introduced and everyone knows what is meant by it, both parties understand how the process works and what to expect. Because people know what to expect, the emotional burden of both giving and receiving feedback is reduced.

What does it Really Mean?

On the face of it “fearless feedback” just means being brave in providing feedback. However, when we’ve seen it in the workplace there is actually a fair amount of nuance around it. Specifically we’ve seen it to be a shortcut for, roughly:

I’m about to provide you with a small piece of negative feedback which you might not really like. I don’t expect you to respond to it and I don’t want to have a conversation about it. I just want you to listen to it briefly to help me get it off my chest and to see if you value it. All I expect you to do in response is to listen, ask for clarification if you need it, then move on from the conversation”.

Of course, ever organization is different, so this is just a reflection of what we’ve seen it mean.

Introducing the Common Language

Many things are scarier before they are understood.

Introducing “fearless feedback” as a piece of common language to an organization can take time and effort, and doing so should be a well planned project for medium or large organizations. Some points you might wish to consider if looking to introduce fearless feedback as common language in your organization include:

  • Reminding everyone of the benefit of feedback for individuals and organizations.
  • Acknowledge that it’s emotionally difficult to both give and receive feedback. This is the case because people often feel challenged by feedback and think it is threatening (sometimes it is).
  • Explain that introducing common language around difficult subjects like this can make it easier because everyone in the conversation knows what to expect if they are sharing the common language.
  • Explain that you’re introducing the phrase “fearless feedback” into the team / organization and would like it to become common language that everyone has the same understanding of.
  • Define fearless feedback for the team / organization. Fearless feedback is feedback that is direct, honest, timely, brief, constructive and provided with good intention. It is to be acknowledged by the recipient at the time it is given, but no more needs to be said or done about it then. The only role of recipient is to listen and acknowledge. They can reflect and act on it later if appropriate.
  • Help bring the common language to life by sharing a role play / demonstration with the team.

You want to help that language settle in and feel right at home.

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Embedding the Common Language

Introducing a new piece of common language can be a powerful thing, but the language needs to stick and be embedded if it is to actually change an organization. This can be achieved through processes similar to the below:

  • The team / organizational leaders should communicate their expectations that individuals make use of fearless feedback.
  • Leaders should role model fearless feedback by delivering it, but also by seeking to receive it and responding well to it when it is provided to them.
  • Leaders should positively reinforce the use of fearless feedback and challenge others where there is a sense that it I not being used.
  • Senior individuals may want to incorporate fearless feedback into the organizational or team artifacts such as values and behaviors, team contracts or team charters.
  • Leaders should celebrate the successes associated with fearless feedback throughout the embedding process to help it become a practice that is followed by all.

People need a shared understanding of words to communicate well.

Learning More

Embedding common language, like “fearless feedback”, can be very helpful in creating cohesive and clear organizational cultures. It can also help improve employee experience, and employee engagement.

Those of you who have spoken to us will know we have pretty strong views on feedback. We understand that receiving feedback well can be difficult and that feedback can feel like a social threat. We also know that receiving feedback can be triggering, causing our amygdala responses (fight or flight) to kick in. Given this, we think it’s good to focus on learning to receive feedback well before focusing on giving feedback well.

There are several posts in this site on various feedback tools and models which might be helpful. These include 360 degree feedback, the stop, start continue framework, The COIN model and the CEDAR model. There are also some tools we think you should avoid, including the feedback sandwich.

Our second podcast on feedback might also be helpful. In it we have a conversation with a feedback specialist, Joe Hirsch. You can listen to it below.

The World of Work Project View

We think that “fearless feedback” is a helpful piece of common language. It’s not for all organizations or teams, but it’s useful for many. The simple phrase becomes very powerful once a common understanding of it has been created. Alliteration also helps with phrases like this because it aids memory.

As with all culture change, the concept of fearless feedback only really works where the leadership embrace it and value the use of it. If you roll our fearless feedback to your organizations but your leaders fail to role-model giving and receiving feedback, and fail to value others giving and receiving feedback, then no own will adopt the behavior. Be sure that you have leadership buy in before looking to roll it out. If you have that buy in though, it can be a powerful tool to improve the use of feedback.

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This post is based on our own personal experience and conversations with individuals from a range of organizations. There are no specific references for it, though we know that a range of organizations use this phrase, and others like it. If you think this is attributable to someone, please let us know.

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