Feedback matters to us all. Whether we like it or not, we need to hear other peoples’ opinions about us, our actions and behaviours, our company, our products and services. The majority of feedback is intended to help, add insight or value and drive change or reinforce behaviour. Whatever the intention of the feedback provider, by its nature, feedback is open to interpretation because it is subjective. This can cause issues, uncomfortable situations, or even conflict. Based on receiving and delivering feedback over the years, here’s my top 5 feedback fails, and how you should deliver it.
“He said, she said”: There is nothing more uncomfortable than a boss or colleague starting a conversation, stammering and stuttering and not getting to the point. This can become excruciating when you realise that they are trying to give you feedback. It starts out very general, then spirals into comments made, discussions overheard, and ends up with you feeling confused and demoralised.
Instead, be direct, be as accurate as you can, and avoid expressing opinions on behalf of others.
Too timid to speak up: Sometimes, even if we don’t want to, we need to help others to deliver feedback. This can be especially tough for those wishing to feed back up the chain. Whilst we should always encourage our teams to own their feedback, I accept that there are occasions when the feedback might be better delivered by someone who is more confident to deliver it. On these occasions, avoiding referring to the anonymous “they” or suggesting that you just happened to hear something said.
Instead, if this feedback really matters, deliver the feedback as if it were your own.
“I didn’t want to say at the time, but….”: Another annoying tendency amongst us humans is to procrastinate on if and when to deliver a particular item of feedback. In our heads, we hum and ha, worrying if we will offend, fretting that it might not be received in the right way. Time passes by, the moment is lost, and then we chose to deliver feedback too long after the fact. The recipient is left feeling uncomfortable, wondering why no-one said anything at the time, and the feedback effectiveness is diminished.
Instead, be timely in your feedback deliver – choose an opportune moment as soon as you can to share.
Too much emotion, too little fact: When it comes to telling someone how their actions or behaviours negatively impacted us, we enter a minefield. We are trying to get across something that conveys a negative message, in a positive way, all the while controlling our emotions. Too soon after the event, and there’s a real risk that the feedback purely focuses on how it made us feel, without enough context to allow the person to consider a different approach in future. Even worse, the original intention to deliver feedback can end up as a rant, criticising the person and making them feel just as bad as they made you feel.
Instead, deliver feedback with respect, avoid intentionally upsetting the recipient, even if the feedback has to be harsh.
“I didn’t know you felt like that!”: Probably the most sensitive are of delivering feedback is when you don’t know the recipient too well. You are still building a relationship, and you really want to help move it forward. How, when and by what medium you deliver feedback in this scenario all contribute to how well received the feedback will be. Because you don’t know the person’s emotional response, motivators and de-motivators, the risk of feedback simply offending and turning off the person is very real.
Instead, demonstrate empathy and compassion when sharing feedback, especially where the relationship, colleague or contact is new. Feedback should build bridges, not crush them!
As always, my feedback on delivering feedback is good old fashioned common sense, and hopefully will prove useful in your next feedback session.