Obtaining credible, meaningful feedback is a challenge for all leaders, including nursing professional development educators. I have found that the more experienced a leader, the less often he/she receives unsolicited feedback. Therefore, the seasoned leader needs to openly seek feedback. Both seeking feedback and receiving it are skills that can be developed and refined. As leaders, we continue to enhance our skills in requesting and receiving feedback. “The nursing professional development specialist seeks feedback regarding his/her own practice” (National Nursing Staff Development Organization & American Nurses Association, 2010, p. 34). The benefits of thoughtful, practice-based feedback are significant. This information focuses on what worked well and what could be improved in specific situations. By seeking feedback from colleagues who see us in action, we open ourselves to rich learning opportunities.
When we genuinely want to hear feedback, the good as well as the areas for improvement, we are ready to plan the request. First, set the context. Share why you are asking for the feedback. Next, share why you are asking this individual for insights and feedback. Third, ask for feedback in a specific area. This could be related to a specific project or process (e.g., meeting facilitation skills). After a recent meeting, I asked a colleague for feedback: “I have mixed feelings about the progress made at yesterday’s project meeting. There was certainly lots of brainstorming. Yet, there were two quiet members. What are your thoughts on how I facilitated the discussion? What worked well? What could be improved?” We set a time to meet later in the day. This generous colleague gave me candid feedback to all my questions. Her feedback helped me use a more effective process at the next team meeting.
After asking for feedback, listen. Ask clarifying questions. Ask for specific examples. Seek to understand the individual’s perspective. This is not the time to defend or agree. It is the time to listen. Be aware of your verbal and nonverbal responses to the comments. Active listening and neutral nonverbals will encourage the person to continue to share ideas.
Obtaining effective feedback can be challenging if colleagues or learners are not skilled or comfortable in providing it. As I mentioned in the last blog, an alternative to traditional, reactive feedback is forward feedback. This technique is future focused. Forward feedback consists of identifying an area of personal focus, and asking others to provide a suggestion related to that focus. Again, be specific about the skill or focus area where you want feedback. The more specific your request, the more meaningful the feedback. For example, “I am working on strengthening my skills in project management, specifically in communicating project milestones and deadlines to a team that is meeting virtually. What one piece of advice would you give me to enhance my skills in this area?” In my experience, I found that others are often honored to be asked for their advice, and are eager to provide specific behaviors in their suggestions.
As we continue to develop skill in seeking and receiving feedback, we will receive information and perspectives that will enhance our skills and improve our relationships. Often validating but occasionally difficult to hear, I believe feedback is always a gift.
National Nursing Staff Development Organization & American Nurses Association. (2010). Nursing professional development: Scope and standards of practice. Silver Spring, MD: nursesbooks.org