Unpacking Feedback Baggage to Unlock Performance

Make feedback a winning habit on your team.

Written By

Lauren Humphrey

Lauren Humphrey

Help people managers succeed

Other topics

Just like in any relationship, we enter into workplace relationships with baggage. And just as with actual baggage, our work baggage needs to be aired out and sorted so we can travel smoothly. Some of the most important baggage to unpack in the workplace is feedback baggage. As HR, it is important to help your employees unpack their feedback baggage in order to have a healthy feedback and performance culture.

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What is feedback baggage 

Feedback baggage refers to the unresolved stressors, pain, and general feelings that we have about feedback. This baggage comes from our previous experiences, but it affects our current relationships. It shapes how we give, receive and approach the topic of feedback. When we don’t air out and sort our feedback baggage in our current work relationships, it can negatively impact how those relationships develop by hindering our ability to give and receive feedback. 

Examples of feedback baggage

  • Getting a pit in the stomach when someone says “I have feedback to give you” 
  • Shutting down when someone gives critical feedback 
  • Brushing off positive feedback 
  • Avoiding giving feedback up to management out of fear of retaliation 

Unpacking your own feedback baggage 

As a first step, HR can help managers unpack their own feedback baggage. Understanding one’s own relationship with feedback is critical for managers to be able to use feedback in a healthy way with their team. Managers should do introspection with the questions below. 

  1. How do you feel when someone tells you they have feedback for you? Describe the physical feeling, the emotions, the reaction you have.
  2. In general, have you had mostly positive or negative experiences with feedback in work settings?
  3. How comfortable are you sharing feedback with your direct reports?
  4. How comfortable are you sharing feedback with your stakeholders/peers?
  5. How comfortable are you sharing feedback with your manager?
  6. How do I like to receive positive feedback? (ie verbal, in public) 
  7. How do I like to receive improvement feedback? (ie verbal, in private, as soon as possible) 

When answering these questions, it can also be helpful to reflect on current behaviors. 

  1. How often do I solicit feedback from my direct reports? 
  2. How often do I share feedback with my direct reports? 
  3. How often do I solicit feedback from my manager? 
  4. How often do I share feedback with my manager?

This introspection starts the “airing out” portion of unpacking feedback baggage. It helps the manager understand their own history and relationship with feedback. 

Developing a personal feedback philosophy 

Once a manager understands their own feedback baggage, they can use that understanding to craft their feedback philosophy. This will drive how they approach their relationship with feedback moving forward. In order to craft a feedback philosophy, managers should  fill in the following statements. 

  • Feedback is important to me because… 
  • I know that in order to be my best, I need feedback from…
  • I should seek feedback in the following moments… 
  • I acknowledge that I do not need to accept or action all feedback that I receive. When I hear something that I disagree with, or don’t want to take onboard, I will…

For example, someone’s personal feedback philosophy may read as follows – 

“Feedback is important to me because I know that I can learn from those around me and it will set me up for success. I know that in order to be my best, I need feedback from my manager and peers, but probably most importantly from my direct reports. I should seek feedback during 1:1s and after collaborating on projects. I acknowledge that I do not need to accept or action all feedback that I receive. When I hear something that I disagree with, or don’t want to take onboard, I will say thank you, take time to digest the feedback, and approach the conversation with open curiosity to learn more rather than digging my heels in defensively.” 

Unpacking a direct report’s feedback baggage 

Once managers understand their own feedback baggage and craft their personal feedback philosophy, they can use  a similar set of questions to unpack their direct reports’ feedback baggage. From there, their direct reports can craft their own feedback philosophies and share with their managers. 

Guidance 

  • Unpacking feedback baggage should be done in private, 1:1 conversations as the introspection can bring up painful and private experiences
  • It can be helpful to send the questions to direct reports ahead of time to allow them time to process and think before the conversation 
  • Reference feedback philosophies at least once a quarter or when difficult feedback situations have come up 
  • Managers can show great leadership by sharing their own feedback philosophy with their direct reports 

Unpacking the magic

Unpacking feedback baggage opens up a healthy world of feedback for managers and direct reports. The introspective questions will help air out the baggage while the feedback philosophy will help sort it into a productive path forward. So let’s unpack that baggage so we can unlock the magic of a healthy feedback relationship.