The secret to giving feedback

For many of us, we’re rapidly approaching the time of year when annual appraisals are carried out.  For some, it’s a complex affair involving many forms and meetings, for others it’s an informal conversation, but whether you’re a line manager, or a colleague who has been asked to give feedback, here’s why it matters, how best to do it, and what to avoid!

Why does feedback matter?

At the risk of stating the obvious, feedback is one of the most important ways that we can determine our impact – not just at work, but at home.  We spend our lives delivering tasks, carrying out duties, performing jobs; so feedback is the way we can determine how others perceive how well or how badly we delivered.  Feedback might be objective – you performed task X completely, but what we more often than not seek is subjective feedback – you performed X task really well, because when you performed that task, we achieved positive outcome Y.

Reflecting on human nature, most of us need some kind of affirmation that we are doing what we do well.  From our days in school, when our teachers would grade our homework all the way through to CEOs presenting annual results to shareholders, we seek confirmation that we have done a good job.  Whilst there might be a few folks out there who genuinely don’t care (and my advice to them would be get up and change your job), the majority of us want to know how we’re doing.  Feedback matters because it acts as a motivator when we get good feedback, and if handled well, it can help us change and improve if negative feedback is constructive.

Delivering Feedback

Many businesses can be explicit on how to deliver feedback – defining the tone of the feedback, the way to express views and what to avoid.  All of this serves a purpose: constructive feedback is tangible (I can relate to what you are saying), actionable (I can make a change or continue as I am) and empathetic (even though you told me something unexpected, I can understand why you shared that.)

The simplest rule on giving constructive feedback is to re-read what you intend to share, and reflect “how would I feel if someone said that to me?”  Take the time to think first of examples that you would relate to that person, then build up feedback based on those examples.  “Jane is very through at her administrative duties.  By reviewing our process on invoice processing, she was able to save us 3 days each month.”  This is tangible, actionable and empathetic feedback. Jane will feel proud of her achievement, happy that her manager remembered her hard work and may well be inspired to see another way to create efficiency.

There are of course times when you have to tell someone something negative.  Whilst still being constructive, don’t shy away from being open and honest.  Again, think of a scenario that you can reference, and craft your words, then reflect on how you would feel if you received such feedback.

By year end, a good line manager should have a plethora of feedback choices to add to the annual review, as he / she will carry out regular reviews (at least quarterly).  If you are asked by a colleague for feedback, reviewing your previous interactions to determine their impact before you share feedback will help you frame what you will share.

How not to deliver feedback

I’ve seen a lot of bland, cut-and-paste feedback in my time, “good effort”, “tries really hard”, “solid performer”.  To me, this is pretty useless, and potentially makes me question if the provider of the feedback really understands me. Don’t do yourself or your colleague a disservice by dashing of something that is not meaningful.

One of the biggest feedback faux pas has to be delivering unexpected feedback.  There should be no surprises, especially from a manager.  If you have not made someone aware of an issue or failing during the course of the year, telling them weeks or even months after will have a negative impact.  If you are in this position, face to face is the better way to share something that may leave an unpleasant taste in the recipient’s mouth.

Feedback is always an opinion, but avoid expressing too much emotion, especially when you need to give negative feedback.  “Bob has no attention to detail and appears to have no regard for his colleagues” – this might be what you think, but what will be the result of being so confrontational?  “During our project team meeting, Bob talked over his colleagues and behaved in a disrespectful manner when a colleague raised a suggested new approach.  Bob’s project update contained a number of errors that Bob should have checked before the meeting” – This feels more factual, but still expresses the concerns on Bob’s behaviour.  If Bob was unaware of his behaviour, this make make him more mindful.  If Bob doesn’t care, then Bob should think about finding a role that does engage him.

Feedback is a difficult thing to deliver, and can result in denial, push back or frustration, but if feedback is constructive (tangible, actionable, empathetic), then you have a better chance of the feedback being taken on-board.  So when you receive a request for feedback, or need to fill out an annual appraisal for a team member, think through the impact you would like to achieve and build on examples to achieve the most positive results.





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