How to Give Effective Feedback
Ever heard someone say feedback is a gift?
I don’t know about you, but when I think back to some of the gifts I’ve received in my life, they weren’t always welcomed with open arms.
I remember getting a hair bonnet as a graduation gift, or books that I’d already read, or that pair of jeans that looked like the ones my mother wore… when I was only 17!
What makes a good gift?
Perhaps one place to start is whether the receiver wants or needs it. Another consideration might be the timing … who wants to get a sweater in the middle of summer? And size – in most cases, one size doesn’t fit all. It’s important that the gift fits the person.
Feedback is a gift and giving feedback is a skill. My team would tell you I have high standards and I push them hard. My belief is that we are all capable of much more than we realize, and that with the right support and hard work, we can accomplish even greater things.
What I didn’t do in the beginning was to provide context. I eventually shared with my team that by providing feedback, I was investing in them. And that my intent, to help each individual become their best self, as they defined it. Why, because I think they are worth it. If I ever stop giving feedback, that’s a bad thing.
Kinds of Feedback
There are all kinds of feedback: adjusting, corrective, reinforcing, and constructive to name a few. Today, I am focusing on constructive.
The core word construct means to build up, think of building or constructing a house. Constructive feedback is supportive. It serves an essential purpose by ensuring expectations are clear and understood, and letting employees know how they’re doing.
Through the years, I’ve recognized several reasons why leaders don’t want to give feedback. It often stems from a lack of skill or confidence, or the worry of hurting someone’s feelings, or they just run out of time in a day with a million things to do.
One of the most consistent reasons is that leaders often believe feedback to be a bad thing. In these situations, I work with the leader to “re-frame” their thoughts. I ask them to think about their motives for giving feedback:
Are they coming from a good place?
What could be the negative consequences of letting the behavior continue for the employee, the team, the organization, or the customer?
Even though some leaders are a natural at giving feedback, most of us, including myself have had to learn how to give feedback in a way that is clear, helpful, and delivered at the right time. The good news is that this is a skill that you and others can master.
It’s a good idea to start with the end in mind:
What do want to occur as a result of this discussion?
What do you want from the other person?
Are you looking to bring it to their attention?
Acknowledgment … or a behavior change?
Being successful at giving constructive feedback starts by asking yourself a few questions:
- What are the specific behaviors that you have seen or heard?
- What is the objective of the feedback that you are about to deliver?
- What is the impact or result of the behavior? On you? The team? The organization?
- What suggestions do you have for improvement?
This is a time for specifics, for details, not generalities. What are the examples that can bring the behavior to front of mind for the person you’re giving feedback to?
What have you observed or verified? This is not a time for second or third hand information – no “he said, she said.”
When we talk about impact, we need to be like the character of Sgt. Joe Friday on the classic police show, Dragnet, and give “just the facts.” No need for emotion or drama, remember your goal is to provide awareness and insight.
Until we meet again, ponder this quote by Harvey S. Firestone and how it relates to giving feedback. “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”