Honest feedback – slowly becoming a lost art

  • Published
  • By Col. James Abatti
  • 71st Operations Group commander
The digital age has brought many benefits to our daily lives and enabled much of our wartime capabilities that make us what we are today.

However, the digital age is a two-edged sword which I believe is slowly degrading our face-to-face communication skills.

Yes I will admit, the digital world of cellphones and texting has greatly expanded our connection with our peers, but it has also degraded our ability to provide meaningful and honest feedback to each other.

We have several Air Force Instructions that tell us we must accomplish feedback. In fact, AFI 36-2406, "Officer and Enlisted Evaluation Systems," says, "Performance feedback is a private, formal communication a rater uses to tell a ratee what is expected regarding duty performance and how well the ratee is meeting those expectations."

The question to you is, "Do you really provide honest feedback on a regular basis to those who work for you or those who work with you?"

I mean feedback that is purposeful, covers an individual's strengths and, more importantly, covers their weaknesses. Feedback that provides how and where they need to improve.

My experience is people are hesitant to be upfront with the negative aspects of feedback. I say this based on what I have seen over the past 23 years in the Air Force. I know this may not apply to all of you, but from what I have observed it applies to many of you.

My observation is people tend to concentrate their feedback on an individual's successes and not their failures or weaknesses. I'm here to tell you this is the worst thing you can do as a supervisor or as a peer/friend.

If you don't provide honest and truthful feedback or dwell only on the successes when providing feedback, there is a good chance the individual may not even know they are failing or that they have weaknesses that need improvement.

The only way for us to improve is to be upfront with our feedback to each other. It's funny, but we can understand the Continuous Improvement Process in our jobs which includes a feedback loop to make adjustments and improvements. But we often fail to see we need to do the same for each other.

Again, my question to you is, "Do you really provide honest feedback on a regular basis to those who work for you or those who work with you?" If not, start doing it!

If you are the one receiving the feedback, don't be offended when someone says you need to improve. See it as a means of helping yourself become the best that you can be and not as someone trying to make you feel bad.

If you are not getting feedback from your supervisor or peers/friends, tell them you want feedback, both good and bad.

In the end, honest and upfront feedback is the key to improving not only ourselves but those around us. We all need to be brutally honest with each other and especially when we are providing performance feedback.

After all, honest feedback is a critical part of the human continuous improvement process.
Bottom-line: If we are to maintain our status as the world's best Air Force, we must learn to communicate better by providing honest and truthful feedback to each other.