The Gift of Feedback

Feedback can be hard to give, especially if the feedback is perceived as negative. Feedback can be even harder to receive, particularly if coming from a subordinate. Interestingly, managers and supervisors are rarely the recipients of feedback. I often ask visitors “what do you wish your manager or supervisor knew?” followed by “have you told your manager this?”

Typically, the response is “I have not.” Subordinates are hesitant to offer feedback to leadership, managers, and supervisors, sometimes asserting a fear of retaliation. Similarly, managers and supervisors are sometimes reluctant to offer feedback, citing frustration with defensive reactions and a refusal to accept the feedback as genuine.

We can all benefit from investing in developing the important skills of delivering honest and appropriate feedback. Successful feedback can improve morale and productivity, whereas unconstructive feedback can create an unwelcoming workspace, and even generate hostility. Studies show that organizations with a culture of effective communication report improvement in employee evaluations. Bi-annual or quarterly 360° reviews are often strong features of these organizations.

If good feedback is essential for a healthy organizational culture, and growth and efficiency in the organization, how can we deliver feedback, negative or positive, in a way that the recipient accepts and appreciates it as a gift?

First, it is important to recognize that when we use the word feedback, we may be referring to any of three different kinds of information: appreciation, coaching, and evaluation. Each serves an important purpose, each satisfies different needs, and each comes with its own set of challenges.[1] It is necessary therefore to differentiate, and be clear about our goals, our intent, and the gift we are attempting to bestow.

Secondly, our feedback usually is offered only around annual evaluations, a time of high stress and an assortment of expectations. Feedback offered in a timely manner and with specificity, is more likely to generate change and achieve the desired results.

We must take the initiative to ask for feedback, be responsive in acknowledging our own shortcomings and show an openness to improve.

10 Tips for Effective Feedback

  1. Set expectations, from the outset. Make sure they are clear, consistent, and articulated often.
  2. Provide feedback frequently, both the positive and the negative. Create a culture of open communication.
  3. Consider when and where to have the conversation, as well as who should be present. Pick a neutral site or private space, and set aside sufficient, uninterruptible time.
  4. Articulate your goals for the meeting, and what you hope to accomplish. Make the feedback specific, sincere, and data-based (not personal). Provide concrete information and examples to support your message. Anticipate and plan for difficult personalities and the impact of message.
  5. Deliver a clear message. Focus on the facts: what you expect, what you observed happen, the impact on others, and what changes are needed
  6. Frame feedback as an opportunity for growth and success. We all have the capacity to learn from our mistakes.
  7. Encourage a conversation when giving feedback. Do not lecture, and more importantly, do not forget to listen, you may learn something valuable.
  8. Focus on the longer-term performance and development of the person, rather than individual mistakes and errors made. Point out the mistake, leave out the judgment, and avoid being negative. Rather, invite self- reflection and encourage open dialogue
  9. Be as open to receiving feedback as you are to providing feedback. Welcome opportunities to grow yourself, while providing learning opportunities for others to also grow. If there is a problem, acknowledge it, and own responsibility.[2]
  10. Recognize the motivations of the other party. Understanding their motivations will help you validate the relevance and legitimacy of the feedback offered. We all have blind spots and can all benefit from good feedback, delivered constructively with thoughtfulness and a positive approach.[3]

Sources

  1. Thanks for the Feedback. The Science and Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback. Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen.
  2. FountainBlue’s June 14, 2019 When She Speaks, Welcoming the Gift of Feedback.

[1] Thanks for the Feedback. The Science and Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback. Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen

[2] FountainBlue’s June 14 2019. When She speaks, Welcoming the Gift of Feedback.

[3] Id

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