One of the most common and important areas of work communication is delivering feedback. And it’s a must-have skill not only for leaders or managers but also for all employees.
Actually, we come across feedback constantly and not only during performance management. Your colleague is always sending her unhappy-with-something messages and emails in the evenings? It is about feedback. Your boss is micromanaging you? It is about feedback. Your subordinate’s presentation was flat? Again it is about feedback.
So, feedback is an inevitable part of our professional life and moreover, a key tool for building a high-performance culture. It’s its hallmark! People in lower-performing cultures usually fear to receive feedback, whereas people in higher-performing cultures fear not to receive needed feedback. Being so important, at the same time feedback is also one of the most poorly executed aspects of communication.
- We do not want to hurt people.Most people don’t. Most of us don’t want to tell someone something that we think other person doesn’t want to hear, especially if that someone has more of a senior title or is very valuable as an employee. And we keep putting off our feedback, hoping for the miracle to change the situation, until it is too late. And then we bite our tongues and say nothing. But resentment gathers inside until bursts into uncontrollable emotions or negative actions and we already want…
- We do want to hurt people. Intentionally or unintentionally but when we are overwhelmed with emotions, our message may sound too evaluative, too general, criticising and get personal. In such a state, we focus on what people are doing wrong, not how they can improve. And even can start shouting or using some other forms of oppression, which is counter-constructive.
So, feedback is usually a daunting experience for both sides, but it shouldn’t be this way. And the workaround is to learn to give and receive feedback effectively.
Features of effective feedback
Effective and useful feedback (the one that moves a feedback-receiver grow and advance) is always:
Specific. Statistically, over 50 per cent of employees in today’s workplace receive feedback that’s either too general or not designed to give enough constructive criticism from their supervisors or their colleagues. And It’s understandable. Specific words can sound or be taken too personally and might cause tension. Well, that’s not the matter if you choose words properly, deliver positively and in the right context.
So, if you want people to hear you and comply with the said, be specific. Don’t say “I think you should make your daily meetings more efficient”. When you really mean, “I see that you allow your agenda to be sidetracked by others.” Besides, very general wording sounds like the feedback-giver is uninvolved or insincere. But people can smell insincerity a mile away and all your good intentions will have a negative impact.
- Descriptive and helpful, not evaluative and punitive. Often in the state of urgency or flogged by the desire to finish the feedbacking process asap, we simply serve up quick evaluations and are done. But evaluations often sound punitive, even if your intention was different. So try to make your statements utmost objective and descriptive with some helpful advice at the end if possible.
In context. It is not only the feedback that matters. When giving feedback recognise the entire context. Was the proper feedback atmosphere created? Are they comfortable listening to you right now or maybe stressed out or overwhelmed? Or otherwise not in a position to receive feedback successfully? If so, wait a little while. You know the expression “Not my day”. That is the day when everything seems against you and goes wrong. And on such days even if feedback words were ok and on any other day they would be perceived constructively and motivate for action, on the wrong day it all can lead only to crying in the bathroom. So, after crafting a great message, make sure it will have the right impact by arranging support of context and creating a feedback-friendly atmosphere.
To ensure effective delivery, it is also important to remember that people need to trust you enough to consider your feedback. Otherwise, even great feedback can be wasted.
- About growth. Feedback is about creating a growth mindset. Ask yourself, will my words move the person(-s) to grow and advance? And give your feedback only in case of a positive answer. If not, let’s call a spade a spade, this is criticism, not feedback. To be able to respect and use your feedback, people need to feel motivated in general and believe there are opportunities to grow and advance here and with you, that trying also matters.
- A process. You thought, planned, told and you are done. Well, with feedback, it never works this way. It works only when it is an ongoing process, the part of the company’s NDA.Historically, many employees only get substantive feedback about their performance during an annual review from their direct supervisors. But it is too rare and too formal for the feedback to bring visible results. As a team leader, pay enough attention to your people and their daily work, observe, take notes, interact and then provide feedback as often, as possible. Then check-in over time, by asking, “How did that go?” It should be a continuous loop of feedbacking created in the company and supported by all level employees.
- Bidirectional conversation. Feedback is nota one-way street, it should always include taking the other person’s perspective on board. Even if you are the one giving feedback, listen to the other person’s point of view and if they keep silent encourage opinion sharing by asking do they see the situation the same way. Also, ask how that fits in with what others have said. If they are not able to speak out now, leave them some time to digest the information and discuss their views at a later date.
- Personally owned. You must own the fact that you’re the source of the feedback, not someone else who isn’t present. Don’t offer feedback and then suggest that’s how the team feels about the issue, or that’s how the management feels, or that’s the way the customer sees it. When it is group feedback mention it, but do not wash hands off this.
- Real-time. There is no use crying over spilled milk, as you know. So not to waste the moment, strike while the iron is hot, and deliver your feedback while it is still valid and free in the memory. Usually, the recommended slot is within 48 hours after the event.
Strategies for giving feedback
If you want to be sure that feedback-receivers hear you, understand you, and feel properly motivated to use your feedback, there are several guidelines you’ll want to follow.
- Prepare. Proper preparation is the key to success in many activities. And for the feedback, it is half the battle. So, do prepare. Gather various facts to provide a broad perspective rather than focusing on a one-off event, choose clear examples you can share to illustrate your opinion, select proper words that can make an impact. Even if you asked to provide on-spot feedback do not rush, say that you would like some time to think about it, gather your thoughts, and only then speak out.
- Practice. Even with a structure in place, it’s still worth practising. At least, go over it in your head, especially when you are to give your feedback to amore senior person than you, not to get nervous and mumble the words, or mush-mouth the message. Therefore practice whatever possible way, so that if you are in that situation, and when you are faced with that person there are more chances that the words will come naturally.
- Elaborate the right tone. To have an impact, it is important not only what to say, but how to say it. If you’re delivering constructive feedback, make sure your tone is respectful, supportive and informal suggesting ways to overcome challenges or change behaviours.
- Ask for permission. Well, you want to be prepared, so give the same chance to your interlocutor. Ask to the face or by email, “Do you mind if I share a couple of observations that I had, regarding [X]?” Believe the conversation will be way more constructive if you both are ready for it.
- Creating a forward focus. The key is to use feedback as a way to progress in the future. So, frame your feedback in a way that’s useful and can help the other person to make improvements. And it is your job as a feedback-giver to help the other person explore how they can use this information (facts, data, examples and future opportunities) to enhance their personal performance.
Provide one type of feedback per conversation. Douglas Stone from Harvard in his bookThanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well identified three primary forms of feedback:
- Appreciation type is actually telling people, what a great job they are doing and how we appreciate their contribution.
- Coaching, that is exploring with someone different ways of approaching a particular challenge or opportunity.
- Evaluation type is essentially about showing where the person is in comparison with what was initially projected.
The rule of thumb here is to give one type of feedback at a time. Sometimes in the interest of efficiency, we mix the two types but it is totally wrong. If you want to give appreciation, give appreciation. The most common blunder is to combine coaching and evaluation. Because even if you just had the best coaching conversation anyone has ever experienced and if you combine it with evaluation they basically just totally lose all of the coaching and focus on the evaluation. “Why did I score a three out of five on this?” will be rolling in their heads. So don’t mix the types.
- Avoid the Shit Sandwich. A while back there was a popular technique for feedback beginners called the Sandwich methods. You were advised to start with something positive, then proceed with criticism, and wrap up with praise. But in reality, this method is a crapfest, theatrics, which just makes a feedback-receiver blush for you, feel disrespected, and you look unprofessional and immature. Experienced managers call itThe Shit Sandwich. So be authentic and sincere, spare people from you superficial complimenting and do not try to find positive when it is negative.
When you’re planning to give feedback it is a great idea to use a certain model which is a kind of framework for your conversation and will make it more effective and serve as a path for you to stay the course and as you can afford no wrong turns here.
For instance, coaching model AIDhas a really good structure, which perfectly suits feedback giving. AID is actually Actions, Impact, Desired.
Actions - describe here what really happened, try to be as objective as you can, and operate facts.
Impact - here you focus on your feelings and impact the actions had on participants.
Desired - and suggest that maybe things could have been done differently in future.
During our daily meeting on Monday, when I was speaking about I noticed that you were reading your Facebook news feed on your phone. (Actions)This was frustrating and embarrassing for me because later you had questions about the information I already covered and this kind of behaviour also sets a poor example for our new team member. (Impact)*Can you, please, make sure, you are more concentrated on what is happening at the meeting and eliminate all distracting factors?*(Desired)
Another feedback-giving framework isSBI, Situation-Behavior-Impact model, developed by the Center for Creative Leadership. It is effective because it is specific, actionable and explains the consequences of the action being discussed.
- Start by describing the situation you’re giving feedback about, concentrate on facts you know exactly, not assumptions, projections or opinions.
- Then, describe the observable behaviour you witnessed. This is most effective when the feedback you’re giving is based on your own observations and not what you’ve heard from others.
- Next, share the impact that behaviour had on you, or others. This should explain the consequences of the action.
Behaviours, Outcome, Feelings, Future. Consists of four steps:
Behaviour - here maximum objectively describe the behaviour using unemotional, specific and non-evaluative adjectives.
Outcome - phrase the consequences that have occurred and/or may occur as a result of the discussed event/behaviour for the business/team/project, as well as the employee themselves.
Feelings- Tell about how you feel the situation. Describe your feelings, emotions, attitude to what is happening.
Future- Discuss and plan the future. Ask what the employee is ready to do/undertake so that in the future this event/behaviour does not take place. Specify the dates for the next meeting where you discuss if the plan worked.
*Jane, I see that two days before the sprint end, you added three new tasks to the sprint backlog. I understand that you followed the customer initiative and requirement.(Behaviour)Because of this, the team needed to change their focus, as the new tasks got high priority, and leave out the ongoing tasks. As a result, sprint goals are not reached.*(Outcome)
*I feel frustrated that our pre-agreed workflow was broken down. And the team seems demotivated.*(Feelings)
*What are you ready to do for us as a team to avoid such situations in the future?*(Future)
To be continued…