05 Oct

Giving feedback

“Feedback is information about past behaviour, given in the present, with the hope of influencing future behaviour.” – C & E Seashore & GM Weinberg

Ever since we started communicating, there has been feedback! Even before speech, a facial expression or action could be used to indicate what you thought of someone or something. Today we are a little more sophisticated in giving feedback – hopefully!

At work, feedback can be used as an opportunity to learn and grow professionally. It can help build skills, confidence and competency. Given well, feedback can improve working relationships, increase performance and contribute to job satisfaction.

Feedback is important – both positive and developmental. Positive feedback is often neglected as people believe it’s not as important as developmental feedback. It could actually be more important! Leveraging strengths and reinforcing positive actions can create a productive and motivated work  environment. Think about last time you received feedback about a job well done – how did you feel?

Developmental feedback can be an effective way to assist others to learn new skills, to help resolve misunderstanding and conflict in the workplace and to reinforce performance expectations. Believe it or not, in many cases it can also motivate!

But what do we need to focus on to do it well?

Often our biggest mistake is giving non-specific feedback – e.g. “Great presentation!”. Whilst this might seem like good feedback, it is not feedback given well. Feedback should be specific and behaviour related – “Great presentation! You had a very clear agenda, you delivered your message succinctly and were able to expand on points when required.”

Next time someone gives you feedback like “Great job!” ask them “What was it that I did well?” It might seem strange at first and some will hesitate, however in most cases it will provide you with specific information to use for ongoing success.

Being specific and behaviour focussed is perhaps even more important for developmental feedback. If someone is given feedback like “You had a bad attitude today” or “You talk too much in our team meetings” it may be difficult for them to take anything from this to learn and develop. It could also make them upset, confused or defensive.

To help with giving others feedback, there are some basic tips – they might seem obvious, but do you do these things?

  • Where possible, plan the feedback, so you give it clearly and effectively
  • Be timely and at a good time – give feedback soon after the situation to ensure it is fresh in memory for the receiver; but balance this with an appropriate time – not when someone is upset or running for a meeting
  • Be specific and focus on behaviours and impact, preferably with examples – “When you did X, the effect was Y…”
  • Base feedback on observations, not assumptions – never assume what someone was thinking, feeling or trying to achieve
  • Make it relevant – will giving feedback help this person in their job or their interactions at work? If the only reason you are giving the feedback is because something they do annoys you, don’t give it!
  • Keep to the point and don’t dilute – don’t try to ‘soften the blow’ by over emphasising something they do well when giving developmental feedback. You can use other examples or situations to add perspective (e.g. “Your last three presentations were very clear and effective, however this one had less impact due to...”) but make sure the feedback is still clear

Spending some time thinking about how to provide feedback will definitely help you communicate more effectively and hopefully will allow the receiver to understand and use the information.

(next blog will outline a model for structuring your feedback…)

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