How to give feedback

judgeThe most important thing to remember when giving feedback is NOT TO JUDGE THE PERSON. Criticise behaviour, output, describe how it affect you, the client, others, but don’t tell them they are a bad person.

Fact-based feedback

You can avoid judgement by sticking to fact-based feedback. If you share:

1) This is what happened

2) This is how it impacted me

3) Then STOP! Hand it over to them to comment

There is no judgement. You are not judging motivation, what caused the problem, you are simply sharing what happened and how it makes you feel. You cannot be wrong.

It is hard to take offence at fact-based feedback. “When you were an hour late for our date it made me feel unloved.” 

You must be specific to give fact-based feedback. Give examples as accurately as you can remember.

When to give feedback

Most important is to give feedback as soon as possible. After a meeting with a customer, the team should debrief immediately in a coffee shop. Even if it is only for 15 minutes, it will maximise learning while events are fresh in everyone’s mind.

Since it is as immediate as possible, feedback should be frequent. Every day, every week you should find some gift to share, however small. It should not be in a formal setting – a quick spontaneous 5 minute feedback every day is more valuable than rigidly schedule 30 minutes “feedback time”.

Since it is immediate, it also follows that you should give one point of feedback at a time. Don’t save up a long shopping list to pound the person with in one sitting.  If you have several areas of feedback, pick the most urgent/important and just share that. You can always share other gifts later. Don’t try to manipulate with a “knuckle sandwich” – sandwiching developmental feedback between two slices of affirming feedback. Genuine feedback for the benefit of the recipient does not need to be balanced, and they will only hear the developmental feedback in any case, discounting the affirming feedback as window-dressing.

Unless your team has an amazingly healthy culture, you are best off giving your feedback one-on-one. The moment there is an audience involved, egos get tempted to “play to the crowd” and the feedback is less likely to be well received. Give your most valuable gifts in private.

Unless you are working remotely, find a time when you can give your gift face-to-face. NEVER EVER give feedback through e-mail or text. You have no control on how it lands on the other person, and there is no way to have a good interaction/conversation. And there is a permanent record that can be stored and fumed over, or worse still copied around…..

You would not give an engagement ring over the phone……….have the courage to give your toughest gifts in person.

Five Don’ts……….

  1. Don’t use emotive language….everyone had trigger words that will press their buttons. For some people it might be “stupid”, others “irresponsible”, “immature” or “lazy”. And never give feedback while you are angry or upset. You are guaranteed to slip from developmental/constructive to negative/critical.
  2. Don’t exaggerate. Whenever you say “You are always late” or “You never say you love me”, you know you have gone beyond fact-based feedback, and are entering the realm of domination and hurt power-games.
  3. Don’t give second hand feedback. “The rest of the team thinks….” You are giving a gift! Own your own gift!
  4. Don’t share “how to fix you” until requested. If you share it up-front, you are not looking solution-orientated, you are looking like judge, jury and executioner. It is OK to think about this in advance, but don’t share it until the recipient engages you in thinking about solutions.
  5. Don’t interpret motivation – why they did what they did. You can never know, and it does not matter. Ask, and start a conversation instead of judging.

Giving affirming/positive feedback

patting-dogThis needs to be timely and specific as well. Saying “good job” is nice, but it is like patting a dog on the head and saying “good boy”. It shows little thought or desire to give a useful gift.

Much for useful is for you to think about what they did that was so good.

So next time, instead of saying “good job”, say “You handled that question about cost reductions very well. You re-stated the question to check you understood, then spoke to the questioner’s unspoken concern about job losses directly and sympathetically”

That is a useful gift!

Feedback is not performance appraisal

Don’t confuse, or mix these two.

Don’t try to save time by giving feedback in a performance appraisal….the employee will only be listening for the number…and why is your feedback so stale?

Feedback Performance Appraisal
Purpose To develop the person receiving To judge the person receiving and allocate rewards fairly
Style Informal Formal, often documented
Frequency Immediate, every day Usually Annual
Focus Qualitative feedback on skills, competencies, behaviors and practices Quantitative measurement of results and outcomes against goals
Consequences Personal growth or no personal growth Bonuses, promotions, firing, salaries

Final thoughts

Giving feedback is a skill that contributes to the growth of all around you. Practice it, master it, and gain a reputation as a people developer.






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