In any business environment, you will probably hear the word “feedback” multiple times a day. People often promise to “give you feedback soon” or they “look forward to your feedback”. But the reality is that most people often do not get the honest and useful feedback that they desire.
Feedback is necessary in the workplace, as both employers and employees require feedback to improve at their jobs, but there are some obstacles that hold people back from giving truthful feedback. For example, most Malaysians are indirect in their speech, and often are too polite to tell another person that he/she has a weakness. And as Malaysian culture is rather hierarchical, it would be a very rare thing for an employee to offer an employer feedback, constructive or otherwise.
How can this problem be overcome? One way is by asking people: “What are other people saying about me and the job I’m doing?” This takes the pressure off them personally (as the phrase “other people” shifts the blame) and makes it safer for them to share their thoughts. Another method is that of providing others with a scale (e.g., from 1-10), and ask them to rate your performance at work so far. Then follow up by asking: “What should I do differently to get a 10?” However, many Malaysians might still feel uncomfortable rating another person’s performance in that person’s presence. A good technique might be to hand out a survey on a sheet or paper (or if you want to save trees – electronically, via websites such as SurveyMonkey) and get fellow workers to complete it anonymously and pass the completed surveys back to you.
It is also important to ask and ask again when soliciting feedback. Often, most Malaysians will not offer their opinions straightaway, as they are culturally indirect when communicating. Malaysian culture is also very much a face culture, and they would not want to cause another person to lose face by saying something they consider to be negative about said person. But if they can see that you are persistent and that you genuinely want to know what they think, they will share it with you, in time. Besides that, feedback is not a one-way street. Try to give others feedback too, by recognising good work and commending it. But please be wary of offering advice where it is not wanted!
The way you respond to feedback also has an impact on whether you are able to obtain even more useful feedback in future. If you have a reputation for being defensive when you hear something you don’t like or something you disagree with, say goodbye to chances of getting honest feedback. On the other hand, being approachable and grateful when others offer insightful suggestions will encourage your colleagues to be more open with you, and this also contributes to a better working environment. Cross-cultural training can be helpful in this regard, as it can assist you to communicate effectively, and also show you how to provide and receive useful feedback from your colleagues and employers.
One last thing to mention is that of following up. Receiving helpful feedback is a great thing, but of no use at all if it is not seriously considered and acted upon. If others see that the ideas they have suggested have been ignored, this will eventually result in reduced feedback and sharing. But if you do follow up and act on feedback given, the results will be good, and can open up the way to better communication among coworkers.