Feedback matters in business, and great managers set up the conditions where feedback is welcomed. They lead through walking the talk, by building strong, resilient relationships, and by welcoming feedback about their own performance. Giving feedback well – both negative or positive, is a skill every manager needs in order to improve the situation, enhance the person’s, team’s or department’s performance.
If you would like to improve your feedback skills, here are some points to consider when you are about to give important feedback.
Being specific and honest – particularly if the feedback is difficult
One of the most powerful things great managers do is to give specific and honest feedback. Unless you’re specific, particularly when the feedback is negative, you could leave someone feeling they’ve failed in some way, but with no clue exactly how. This can lead to increased performance anxiety, leaving them in a very uncomfortable place where they don’t know quite where to turn.
Genuinely useful and constructive feedback focuses on a specific behaviour or attitude – with examples. It does not focus in on the individual or interpretations of their intentions.
It always includes more positive aspects than negative ones. Usually a 3:1 guideline wherever possible works well. This stance works because it recognising that praise rather than criticism is usually a far better motivator.
Rejecting the language of blame
If there’s one thing that does wind people up, it’s exaggeration and unfair accusations. So reject the language of blame, those awful phrases like, “You always do this” and “You never do that”. Use them and you’ll only put people on the defensive, at which point they’ll stop listening and might even end up actually reacting to you rather than listening to what you are saying or reflecting on the actual feedback.
Holding the conversation in private
If you need to offer negative feedback, it is best to think through what conditions will work best. If the feedback is given in a public forum it can be exposing and embarrassing for the person concerned. Wherever possible, give negative feedback in private. Provide the person with both the opportunity and the time to react and digest what you are saying.
It’s also your job to provide the right tools, training, time and support if you want someone to perform in a certain way. It matters because successful feedback pins down actions and behaviours that a person can actually work on and do something about. After all, there’s no point in giving someone a challenging time over something they can’t easily change. This is especially true when you maybe part of the problem. You are not offering the support needed, the resources or practical suggestions that help them take that next vital step.
Encouragement builds confidence
Noticing improvement and giving people credit for taking what you have said on board, usually means a great deal to them. The art of simple and heartfelt encouragement helps to build up confidence and strengthens resilience around learning and moving on from mistakes. Specific praise always goes a long way.
Feedback as an ongoing thing, not a one-off
Feedback isn’t a closed loop. It’s a process, and as such it needs to be an ongoing thing, a constant process. Don’t leave people hanging and not knowing what you think about their performance. They will project into that gap. They will come up with ideas about what it is you are thinking. It is far better that you articulate your thoughts and in this way circumvent misconceptions.
It’s sensible to be properly prepared when planning to give feedback: what to say, in what order of priority, in what tone, to whom. If you’re feeling vexed, taking a step back will give you the time you need to calm yourself. It will enable you to be clear about what you say, stay focused on the issues, remain on track. If the feedback is very positive, it still needs to be succinct with examples. It should not be delivered with a broad brush stroke that instantly generates a warm feeling but has little content that can be remembered onwards.
Your attitude and mood counts
Part of being prepared is to make sure you manage your mood. You attitude will influence your presence, your body language, your voice tone and speed, as well as the words you use. Your mood will evoke a reaction one way or the other. No matter what the context is, generating an overall feeling of good humour, of kindness, of tolerance and understanding will be the best climate to begin your feedback conversation.
Getting the timing right
Timing is therefore also important. Someone makes a mistake and you let it fester on. A year later you haul them over the coals for it. Reactions then become easily charged. There is a lot to be said for tackling matters as they arise, while the feedback is still relevant and the incident fresh. On the other hand, if your emotions are running high, it might be best to wait a little while and to wisely calm down before tackling the issue. You could so easily say something you’ll regret, so alienate those you’re trying to help.
How to receive feedback gracefully
Giving feedback is only one side of the coin. Accepting it calmly, with grace, is another useful skill. As a manager you can model this approach with others. But accepting something gracefully doesn’t mean being a doormat. You’re allowed to question the feedback you’re given rather than just swallow it whole, especially when it comes from someone you don’t respect or who hasn’t bothered to find out all the facts. To receive feedback gracefully:
- Listen actively, not passively – Give the person handing over the feedback your full attention, keep eye contact, don’t fidget and make sure you maintain open body language rather than going all defensive, crossing your arms and legs to protect your inner self.
- Don’t argue the toss. It can be difficult, but ‘thanks for the feedback’ is so much more positive than reacting defensively, which simply signals you’re not receptive. And that’s a reputation you don’t want to foster.
- Digest the feedback slowly and calmly… and honestly. There’s no need to rush yourself. Does the criticism ring true, is it something you already know about yourself? Have you had the self-same feedback before? How many people have mentioned it in the past?
- Be ‘mindful’. It’s a buzzword at the moment but that’s only because it matters so much. Be aware of what you’re doing, how you’re feeling at all times. Take your emotional temperature regularly. Are you slipping back into your old habits?
- Close the feedback loop – Share your feelings and progress with the person who gave you the feedback in the first place, so they can see you’ve taken it on board and are making efforts to improve matters.
Polish up your feedback skills
Feedback should be given up, down and sideways in every company, a reliable way to take the business’ temperature and winkle out negatives before they become real issues. If you want to polish up your feedback skills and become more confident at giving and receiving it, do get in touch.