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TRUST and Feedback—Part I: Reciprocity and Positive Feedback

In one of my surveys, I found that when you trust someone, you are 106% more willing to give them the direct, unfiltered feedback they need to hear rather than tell them what you think they want to hear. But this reciprocity doesn’t end there. When you give someone the feedback they need, with the clear intention (through their eyes) of helping them become a better version of themselves, they will trust you more. In this article, I will show you the levels of feedback, discuss positive vs. negative feedback, and give you tips on how to give feedback.


Reciprocity of Feedback, Receptivity, and Trust

The 6th Law of Trust indicates that trust and trustworthiness are reciprocal. But trust is also reciprocal with feedback in two ways. If you give another person feedback (to help them become better versions of themselves), you show them that you care about them, and therefore they will trust you. Other people will only give you feedback if they trust you and believe you will take it well rather than react inappropriately or retaliate against them. Only if they trust you will they give you the feedback you need to hear, rather than what they believe you want to hear. Therefore, trust and the willingness to give feedback are reciprocal.


Levels of Feedback

There are different levels of feedback, ranked here from the least effective to the most effective:

  • Least effective: when people don’t believe that their anonymous feedback is truly anonymous, they will be careful with what they provide and offer only the feedback they believe the reader wants to hear rather than what they think the reader needs to hear.

  • At a higher level, people are willing to provide feedback, but only in an anonymous way. They provide real feedback, believing they will remain anonymous.

  • Some people are willing to provide more detailed feedback, but only through a third person, such as a coach or someone else they trust to keep their feedback anonymous. The coach then will consolidate the feedback from multiple people and provide it to the person who must hear it so that it will not “blow the cover” of those who provided the feedback.

  • If there is enough trust, people would be willing to provide the feedback directly, but in a low-intimacy manner, such as through email. It is easier to hide behind written words and not face the person you provide feedback to. There is no anonymity but a low level of intimacy.

  • At yet a higher level, people are willing to provide direct feedback to the recipient in-person. That provides the highest level of intimacy in delivering that feedback and allows the other person to benefit from their ability to ask questions and understand the finer details of that feedback.

  • The most effective and beneficial form of delivering feedback is in a “hot seat” session, in which feedback is delivered to members of the team by all other members, in-person, in front of all the others. This form requires the highest level of trust and also develops the highest level of trust among team members.

The level of feedback chosen depends on the level of trust that already exists in the team. A team with a very low level of trust will not be able to convey feedback in a “hot seat” session. Determining the level of trust in the team will indicate the level of feedback that can be delivered in that team. Obviously, the higher the level of feedback, the faster trust will be built in the team. However, using a high-trust feedback form that requires a significantly higher level of trust in the team could cause more harm than good. Choose wisely.


Positive Feedback

In this series of articles, when I say “positive feedback,” I refer to feedback addressing a positive action or behavior done by the recipient. But when I say “negative feedback,” I don’t mean feedback delivered in a negative way, but rather feedback addressing a negative action, behavior, or outcome by the recipient, but delivered in a good way. This series of articles is aimed, among other things, to help you determine how to deliver negative feedback in a positive way.

It is important to note that positive feedback makes you feel better (about yourself), and negative feedback makes you better. You need both.

Positive feedback is important. Without it, you might get the wrong impression that everything you do is bad (because you only get negative feedback). It might cause anxiety, depression, or general resignation (or even acceptance that everything you do is bad). You need positive feedback just as much as you need negative feedback.


How to Give Positive Feedback

There are several rules to how you should give positive feedback. As you can expect, they are much less restrictive than the rules for giving negative feedback.

First, you should give positive feedback when it’s relevant. This reinforces positive behaviors and outcomes and lets the recipient know that what they’ve done is positive. Don’t wait with positive feedback until you can use it to help the recipient take negative feedback.

You can give positive feedback almost any time. You don’t have to wait until the recipient is in the right state of mind. We are almost always in the right state of mind to take positive feedback.

You can give positive feedback almost anywhere. You don’t have to make sure you give it only in a supportive, positive environment. Almost any place is appropriate for giving positive feedback.

Generally, you can do it in front of other people. Giving positive feedback should not be embarrassing and not belittle the recipient or hurt their feelings. However, make sure that the recipient is willing to take positive feedback in front of others. Some people are shy, don’t want the attention, or did a positive thing anonymously, for whatever reason they had. Giving positive feedback in front of others, in this case, achieves the opposite and may cause them to stop doing positive things to avoid public acknowledgment.

But there is a “don’t” as well: Don’t give negative feedback disguised as positive feedback. Don’t give positive feedback in a sarcastic, cynical way.


Listen to the podcast episode HERE.

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