Imagine: you’re a dedicated volunteer of a sport organization. You started volunteering because the club needed volunteers and you wanted to help. Or, maybe there was no one else. Perhaps you participated in the sport at some point, or your children now participate. Now that you’re involved, you really enjoy it. You feel that you’re making a positive impact and you’re trying your best. You and your fellow volunteers are working hard and although there were some bumpy spots, you think you’re doing pretty well! And then, it happens. You receive some negative feedback. Someone makes a comment directly to you or to someone in your organizing group. Or perhaps it comes as an email or a comment on the club’s social media page. Has this ever happened to you? What happened next? How should you respond?
Take a Beat
It’s natural to feel upset and it’s natural to feel defensive. We’re invested in what we do and want our efforts to be successful. But it’s important to take a breath. Or five. A walk even, or nap. Maybe let it sit for a day or two. Come back to the feedback when you’re feeling calm and not emotionally activated. Read it again. Process it slowly.
Thank Them for Being Candid
Reach out to have a follow-up conversation with that person. If possible, in-person or by a video platform like Zoom, as seeing the person and their facial expressions can be extremely helpful. To start the conversation, thank them for providing their feedback. Thank them for being honest. For the most part, it’s not a personal attack and it doesn’t have to do with you. They could have left your organization without saying anything or they could have complained to anyone who listened. Consider that they shared their negative feedback because they’re invested in the club’s success and they hope their feedback will change things for the better.
Listen to Understand
Do more listening than talking. Take notes or ask to record the conversation so you can refer back to it again. Ask clarifying questions that will help you understand everything that led to their feedback. Ask for specific examples or ask for specific solutions. Don’t defend yourself or the club’s actions, don’t explain rationale, and don’t offer solutions. Say that you will take what they’ve shared back to the group and that you’ll reflect carefully on what they’ve said. Commit to following up at a later date with any decisions made.
Reflect on everything that was shared. Pull others into the conversation. Include your board, other coaches, any staff. Ensure that anyone who needs to be involved in the conversation is included. Be honest with yourselves and with each other. Should the feedback be considered seriously? If so, what changes should be made? How can you meaningfully improve? Brainstorm realistic and meaningful solutions. From there, develop action plans with defined dates for execution.
Follow up with that person. Share the process you went through and the changes you’re committed to making. Also, consider sharing this information publicly, through your website, social media, or emails, or information nights. This signals that you’re open to receiving feedback, to considering it, and to taking action. It shows transparency in a system, an openness to reflection, and accountability to implementing processes.
I’ve heard it said that if you are uncomfortable receiving feedback, it’s because you don’t receive enough of it. Ask for feedback often. Become comfortable with hearing negative feedback and what you weren’t expecting. By taking action, you will likely begin to hear what you were expecting. Developing a robust feedback process within your organization cultivates honesty, openness, innovation, and community. Imagine the possibilities in evolution if everyone in your organization felt that they were contributing to solutions.