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Studio 24's Mental Health First Aider looks at the importance of developing a culture of feedback that supports mental health

10th October 2022 is World Mental Health Day, and I’ve recently been thinking about mental health in the context of giving and receiving feedback.

One of the most impactful things that I took from reading ‘Radical Candor’ by Kim Scott is that, if you avoid giving someone feedback, you are denying that person the opportunity to grow and develop (in the book it refers to this as ‘Ruinous Empathy’).

Not just as managers, but as colleagues and peers, we have a responsibility to give people valuable feedback that will help them to improve and succeed. But giving constructive feedback can be intimidating when you’re also trying to be considerate of an individual’s mental wellbeing.

No-one likes to be told that they’ve done something wrong. We are hard-wired to resist failure. And it’s one thing to know you’ve made a mistake, it’s quite another to have it pointed out to you by somebody else. But if this isn’t communicated to you appropriately, it can have a lasting impact on your self-esteem, contribute to increased stress levels and feelings of insecurity, and potentially affect your mental health. Knowing the risks of giving feedback in a bad way, it’s easy to understand why people avoid giving it.

Why feedback is important

Feedback is essential to development. Imagine you’re having a driving lesson and the instructor doesn’t tell you when you made an error. You then go to your driving test, make the same error and fail the test. You might be annoyed with the instructor for not alerting you to the error in the previous lesson.

We all need to be told when we’ve done something incorrectly, so that we have the opportunity to learn and get it right next time. The trick is finding ways in which we can share this feedback, whilst also communicating in a way that is considerate of the individual. In Radical Candor, this is summarised as ‘care personally, challenge directly’.

Developing a culture of feedback

At Studio 24, we’ve recently started using Know Your Team’s Performance Feedback tool. The platform provides useful guides and templates that help to structure the feedback in a way that fulfills the ‘care personally, challenge directly’ model. Feedback first and foremost should come from a position of care – you’re giving the feedback because you care about the person receiving the feedback. You want them to succeed, and you want their work to be the best it can be. Framing feedback in this way helps to contextualise what is being said and makes it easier for someone to accept.

Feedback should also be clear and direct, specific about what has been observed and what actions can be taken to improve. And feedback should be open to challenge, giving the recipient an opportunity to provide more context and decide whether they accept the feedback that has been given.

Another beneficial aspect of the Know Your Team platform is that people are encouraged to invite feedback, rather than wait for it to be given. Knowing how important feedback is for our own growth, this empowers us to take ownership and control over the feedback process and enables us to request guidance on areas that we specifically want to improve in. And because we know the feedback will be given in a caring and clear way, we are more likely to accept the feedback that has been provided.

Giving constructive feedback can be daunting, but if it’s framed in the right way, and if it always comes from a position of care, it can make an amazing difference to a person’s sense of self-worth. Over time, by developing a culture of considerate feedback, we can strengthen the psychological safety of the team, support each other’s professional growth and protect everyone’s mental wellbeing in the process.