Feedback Boundaries: when its time to go beyond feedback
Laura Lemos • 25 June 2020
If you want to know more about me and what I previously wrote, check it out below:
Previously I talked a little bit about how bias can affect feedback culture:
Some feedback is biased. It shouldn’t be, but feedback comes from people, and everyone has their own biases.
I want to recap that because characteristics such as race, sexuality, gender, identity, ability, culture, hobbies, family, social class, politics, beliefs, and values change dramatically from person to person. That is what essentially makes us who we are, right? People have profoundly different mentalities based on what life experiences they have been through.
So when we are talking about such a wide variety of backgrounds, we need to find some common ground and rules to enforce them, especially if we are talking about big companies, with large numbers of employees across multiple locations. Often feedback is not enough to keep everyone aligned on human rights and the company’s values. We need to make sure everyone acts appropriately according to our company’s bylaws. That is vital to assure people’s dignity plus safety, and guarantee we can all coexist harmoniously in the same space, despite our differences.
Feedback is a powerful tool, but not a solution to all problems. It is not a permanent answer to how to deal with differences in the workplace.
On that note, feedback can’t solve everything, and some moments and situations require further action. Matters like harassment need to be reported to the company’s leadership and taken to the authorities, depending on the severity of the issue. Your company has no right to ask you to handle this type of situation on a feedback basis or telling you to keep quiet about it. You have (human) rights, and you are free to put them to use.
Here is a list of things that you absolutely don’t have to deal with on a feedback basis: abuse, sexism, racism, ableism, LGBTphobia, xenophobia, and any oppression against marginalized groups. If you feel you are being harassed (physically, sexually, or psychologically), start talking to people you trust and getting help to protect yourself.
If you think a colleague is being harassed, don’t ignore it. Talk to them and figure out a course of action together. Most of the time, it is easier for people who are not being directly affected by it to speak up and take action to fix the problem.
I understand not always people will want to disclose an issue like this and will feel the need to keep it private (usually by fear or shame), but this is your choice to make, not anybody else’s. And mostly it’s not really a choice. It is just the way society works, making us feel guilty about things that are not our fault, and keeping companies and people who have problematic and illegal behaviors protected and safe. However, I want to share Awesomely Luvvie's amazing talk about the power of speaking up, even when we feel uncomfortable or afraid: “your silence serves no one”, says the activist and writer from I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual book.
Why should leaders care about nurturing mixed healthy environments?
The answer is pretty straightforward: the company must be an inviting place for all people to thrive and help the business to grow. McKinsey & Co made a study report called Delivering through Diversity, which shows that companies with diverse teams are more profitable than those with similar teams. The chances are that a business is 21% and 33% more profitable with gender and race diversity, respectively. So if you want to make more money, you should genuinely care about human rights and changing the face of technology.
I encourage us to start talking not only about feedback culture but also about where the feedback limit has been passed.
Keep in mind how we can track recurring feedback regarding inappropriate behavior. How much is enough? What are the consequences for those who reach this limit? Is there a policy about it? If there isn’t, it’s time to start building an effective one. That can keep people from feeling like they have no other choice but to stay quiet, quit their jobs, or worse. Be specific about it; vague policies don’t help anybody but the aggressor. If you are interested in how to integrate human rights into your company’s values and bylaws, these two guides can help you get started:
Feedback as a Tool for Social Dynamics Transformation
All that said, I would like to encourage us to put ourselves in opposite societal roles and dynamics regarding feedback. I did a research regarding soft skills and feedback people receive about this topic. I discovered that 79% of people who gave constructive feedback have higher positions inside the company or have more experience, against 17% of people who have lower positions or less experience. Another interesting data is that 85% of those feedbacks came from white men, 62% from white women, 23% from non-white men, and 19% from non-white women. So we urgently need to start thinking about feedback as part of society’s structure. How can we make it fairer? How do we make ourselves aware of our own biases?
On this note, I would like to suggest: if you are a senior consultant, ask a junior consultant for feedback. If you are a white man, ask a black woman for feedback. If you are a manager or a leader, ask your team for feedback.
Feedback is supposed to take us out of our comfort zones so we can grow from it; we have to be able to open ourselves up and listen to a different perspective. Everyone has something to teach and something to learn. It is time for us to bring horizontal leadership to reality, applying its values to everything and everyone. Let’s bring feedback culture not only for those who are used to being heard but also for those who are used to being silenced.
Thanks for reading!