Creating a culture of feedback

FeedbackCreating a culture that includes open and honest feedback is essential in a dental practice, Jamie Morley says.

Giving and receiving honest feedback effectively is one of the most important skills that a leader can have for multiple reasons.

  • Firstly, it provides a level of motivation, recognition and feeling that the work they do matters for people when they receive honest, positive feedback.
  • Secondly, honest conversations provide a real opportunity for people to learn and grow.
  • Thirdly, it is crucial for ensuring that values are reinforced and lived and strategies are followed.
  • Fourthly, it prevents an eruption inside the leader when dissatisfaction is kept within the person around an issue
  • Finally, if there is a problem that is not addressed this problem will only get worse and have more of a negative impact.

Overall it keeps everybody and everything heading in one direction. It can literally make or break a situation.

It can turn what is a problem into a positive change that benefits the whole practice. Or it can turn a problem into a major issue with a significantly underperforming individual who is affecting the broader team and the overall performance of the practice.

Before we talk about giving feedback we have to look at how you receive feedback. If you do not receive feedback well yourself, then it is likely that your team will follow suit and not receive feedback well either.

You want an overall team culture of giving and receiving feedback. You have to set the example.

Receiving feedback

It sounds easy right? Ok, I need to be able to receive negative feedback about myself and even solicit feedback about my own performance.

Yet, I am sure that there are people reading this now who will start to shift uncomfortably in their seats. I am the boss, I know best, what right have they to tell me what is best? If not, then great!

However, when did you last receive any feedback about your own performance? Last week? Last month? Three months ago? Further?

If it is further than three months ago, does this mean that you have done everything right in the last three months? I would suggest not, but rather the reason that nobody has given you this feedback is partly because you may be the owner or boss or seen as being at a higher hierarchical level and maybe because you didn’t receive feedback effectively in the past. So, how do you change that?

What to do with feedback

I think the first thing is to recognise that feedback is one of the most important things in helping us to improve. Without that genuine perspective from the outside we are totally missing another perspective and ultimately a very important one in how our actions and behaviours are perceived from the outside and the impact they have on others. This is actually the key to great leadership.

If you truly recognise this, then you will be in a place of really wanting to receive the feedback.

The second thing is that you always have a choice with what you do with the feedback.

By receiving it well, it doesn’t mean that you have to act on it. This is a choice you have, as others have when you give them feedback. But at least receive and understand the feedback so that you can then make an informed and effective choice.

The problem is that sometimes people don’t take it that far because they feel threatened by it. They go into a fight or flight response and become very defensive. Then they never end up truly understanding what the feedback is.

Thirdly, remember that people are really making themselves vulnerable when they give you feedback. They are bravely giving you that feedback when many will not for fear of what the response and reaction is.

This is especially true if you are the owner of the practice. Bear this in mind when you respond.

You may well feel very defensive. Especially as the feedback may well not have been delivered that well. It may also have come from somebody you don’t particularly like or believe is especially competent.

Sometimes the people we don’t like can give us the greatest insight into how we can improve. It is down to you to see this as a real opportunity to learn and improve.

A feedback culture

Practically, be on the lookout and recognise that it is feedback.

When you notice that it is, before you do anything, I would always recommend saying something that will interrupt an automatic response. Perhaps something like: ‘Thank you for coming to me and giving me this feedback, I really do appreciate it’. Use your own words.

If you believe in the value of it, then you will be able to do this with authenticity and sincerity.

Then I would say something like: ‘I really want to fully understand the feedback that you are giving me. Please can you explain it again’.

Seek to clarify what the person has said. If the feedback is generic then ask for specific examples so that you really can understand the feedback. Be genuinely interested.

Once you understand it, then summarise it back. If necessary take time to decide what to do with it.

It is not the time to throw anything back against this person. Aside from helping you learn, what it also does is signal to the person that it is ok to give you feedback. In fact you really want that feedback.

As a result they will give you more feedback. It also sets an example to your team members of how to receive feedback.

From this will grow a culture of feedback, learning and improving.

Giving feedback

Let’s look at some principles.

Firstly, the type of honest conversations you are having need balancing between positive and negative.

I personally think it is important to have separate conversations. Otherwise people tend to miss the positive if you put it in a conversation with something negative. They feel that you are saying this to soften the blow.

A separate conversation around something positive is a rare thing. This has great impact on individuals, even those who say they don’t need praise.

Before you say that you haven’t seen anything in a specific individual, then I challenge you to change the lens through which you are looking to notice when you see something positive.

If you really never see anything good, then that is a different conversation that is required. Leaders tend to either only do the positive or only do the negative. The best leaders do both regularly with real sincerity and empathy.

It’s all about timing

The second principle is to know your boundaries. What is ok and what is not ok? This takes us back to knowing your own personal values as well as the values of the business. What is truly important?

The third principle is to have the conversation as soon as possible after the event. Do not let it fester inside you and do not let it slide, otherwise it will probably be forgotten.

The only counter to this is when it creates such a significant emotional response either in you or the other person that either or both of you need to be in a better emotional state to have a productive conversation about it. It is better to remove yourself for a short period and be in a better emotional state to have that conversation.

The fourth principle is to be as empathetic as possible in these conversations. In negative conversations I feel that sometimes people want to be harsh and difficult in their tone. They lose their ability to listen to the other person so that they ‘put them in their place’. This doesn’t provide for a constructive conversation. It makes the individual feel even more like they are being told off, as if they are a child. This will then lead to a child-like response. Show empathy and want to understand.

‘Lead the way’

Principle five – clear is kind, unclear is unkind. Sometimes we think that skirting around the subject will soften the blow. It doesn’t and only leads to frustration and actually makes the situation worse if the individual doesn’t understand what you are trying to say.

You must clearly articulate the issue. Relate it specifically to a witnessed situation or example. If you cannot, then do not give the feedback because you don’t really know what the issue is.

Principle six – make it about the behaviour or situation, not about the person. This will allow for a constructive conversation and will give you the best possible chance of the individual becoming very defensive.

Lead the way with demonstrating these behaviours. Be brave. Have conversations where you are both giving and receiving both positive and negative feedback.

You will start to create a culture of feedback that will have an incredible impact on your practice.

Jamie Morley is the author of Lead Your Dental Practice available at

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