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How to … give quality feedback

Feedback. The cornerstone of performance management, but usually not executed well, or at all. Employee surveys are consistently telling us that employees are not getting the feedback and direction they need and that many managers lack good feedback feedback

Without feedback we don’t know when we’ve done something well or could perhaps improve upon something. Many people find it much easier to give feedback when it is positive than when it is negative. Or conversely the more ‘traditional’ manager will only focus on the negative. I was coaching a line manager who had received negative 360° feedback that they never gave feedback. They were surprised and defensive; ‘I tell them when they’re not doing a good job, what do they mean’. Later in the conversation I praised the manager for something I had seen them do well with a staff member. They smiled, shifted a bit uncomfortably and said “Thanks”. I asked them how the praise made them feel (I know, a ‘fluffy’ question for those rooted in the IQ zone). “Good, I’ve been working on that, I’ll try it again”. I commented that when we receive positive feedback apparently (so the science suggests) the brain releases a ‘feel good’ chemical, a sort of ‘high’. This results in the person doing more of the same that got them the feedback. I could see the lightbulb go on with the manager. They had been schooled in the ‘no news is good news’ and ‘why praise for something they’re paid to do’. That approach doesn’t work for the Gen X’ers and Gen Y’s in our workplace. For a Gen Y, no news = bad news.

Both positive and negative (or constructive as I prefer to call it) feedback is useful because it helps us become aware of our ourselves, to determine the consequences of our actions and to change or modify our behaviour.

Giving Feedback – some tips

  • Be Objective. Be descriptive, not prescriptive, when giving feedback. Be concerned with behaviour rather than your own judgement or interpretation of that behaviour. Describe as objectively as possible what the problem is or what you saw the person say or do.
    “You’re useless!” vs. “Your timesheet is late for the second time this month”
  • Relevant. Ensure the feedback is relevant to the job. Don’t sweat the small stuff – focus on what is really important
  • Timely and Prompt. Early intervention is critical. Give feedback as soon after the event as possible – 3 weeks later isn’t helpful to the receiver. Delaying feedback may give the impression that the issue isn’t important for you.
  • Specific. Be specific about what the issue is. Speak for yourself, not somebody else.
  • Direct. Don’t try and sugar coat the message – the love sandwich – it gives mixed messages. When you have something that needs to be said, get diplomatically and constructively to the point.
  • Clear. Be exact in the words you use to describe. Words such as “always,” “never,” or “sometimes” are not helpful because the receiver will end up defending the exaggeration instead of responding to the real issue. Be careful with ambigious words such as “unprofessional” or “irresponsible”, “good”, “bad”. You need to be able to describe what professional, responsible, good or bad looks like in the workplace.
  • Check for understanding. Words can be misinterpreted – check they have understood your message.
  • Calm. Never give feedback when you are angry. Sit on it for at least 24 hours. Ensure the receiver is ready to hear the feedback. Ensure you deliver it calmly and in a non-threatening manner. Do otherwise and you could be on the end of a bullying complaint.
  • Confidential. If it’s negative feedback, find a confidential, quiet place to sit down with the receiver. Don’t deliver negative feedback in front of colleagues – respect their feelings and dignity. Conversely, if it’s positive feedback you may want to deliver it in a more public arena, but only if the receiver is comfortable with this. Some people like the spotlight on them, others don’t.

When expressing feedback use “I” statements in order to describe how the behavior is affecting you. For example:

When you (describe a behavior that you observe in the other person) I feel (one or two words that describes a feeling) because (explain as well as you can why you react this way).”

Here is the example filled in:

When you show up late to the staff meetings I feel frustrated because it means you miss discussions about our work. Could you please plan to be on time or let me know in advance if you will be late and I will ask someone to feedback on what was covered. ”

Constructive Example

“You have been late to work twice this week. When you are late I feel annoyed and disappointed because it means customers have to wait whilst we find cover for you, and your co-workers work suffers. Can you please ensure you arrive at work on time. If you need time off for an appointment during work house can you please let me know in advance so I can make cover arrangements. Can you do that from now on?”.

Positive/Affirming Example

“When you were training Sharon I felt pleased when you took time to listen to the problems she was having and adapted your approach to meet her training needs. Because of that Sharon is now confidently working with the new system. That means our customers receive a much improved service. Thanks, good work”. You’ve just tied in an organisational goal to your feedback, helping the employee to understand how they make a difference in their work.

Feedback is an important communication tool that can improve the way we work with one another and help us become more effective in our daily lives. Hope this helps.

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