It is all about feedback
One of the most common and important areas of work communication is delivering feedback. And it’s a must-have skill not only for leaders or managers but also for all employees.
Actually, we come across feedback constantly and not only during performance management. Is your colleague always sending her unhappy-with-something messages and emails in the evenings? It is about feedback. Is your boss micromanaging you? It is about feedback. Was your subordinate’s presentation flat? Again it is about feedback.
So, feedback is an inevitable part of our professional life and, moreover, a key tool for building a high-performance culture. It’s its hallmark! People in lower-performing cultures usually fear receiving feedback, whereas people in higher-performing cultures fear not receiving needed feedback. Being so important, at the same time, feedback is also one of the most poorly executed aspects of communication.
- We do not want to hurt people. Most people don’t. Most of us don’t want to tell someone something that we think others don’t want to hear, especially if those others have senior titles or are very valuable as employees. And we keep putting off our feedback, hoping for the miracle to change the situation until it is too late. And then we bite our tongues and say nothing. But resentment gathers inside until it bursts into uncontrollable emotions or harmful actions, and we already want to…
- ...hurt people. Intentionally or unintentionally, but when we are overwhelmed with emotions, our message may sound too evaluative, too general, criticising and get personal. In such a state, we focus on what people are doing wrong, not how they can improve. And even can start shouting or using some other forms of oppression, which is counter-constructive.
So, feedback is usually a daunting experience for both sides, but it shouldn’t be this way. And the workaround is to learn to give and receive feedback effectively.
Features of effective feedback
Effective and useful feedback (the one that moves a feedback-receiver grow and advance) is always:
- Specific. Statistically, over 50 per cent of employees in today’s workplace receive feedback that’s either too general or not designed to give enough constructive criticism from their supervisors or their colleagues. And It’s understandable. Specific words can sound or be taken too personally and might cause tension. Well, that’s not the matter if you choose words properly, deliver positively and in the right context.
- So, if you want people to hear you and comply with the said, be specific. Don’t say “I think you should make your daily meetings more efficient”. When you really mean, “I see that you allow your agenda to be sidetracked by others.” Besides, very general wording sounds like the feedback-giver is uninvolved or insincere. But people can smell insincerity a mile away and all your good intentions will have a negative impact.
- Descriptive and helpful, not evaluative and punitive. Often in the state of urgency or flogged by the desire to finish the feedbacking process asap, we simply serve up quick evaluations and are done. But evaluations often sound punitive, even if your intention was different. So try to make your statements utmost objective and descriptive with some helpful advice at the end if possible.
- In context. It is not only the feedback that matters. When giving feedback recognise the entire context. Was the proper feedback atmosphere created? Are they comfortable listening to you right now or maybe stressed out or overwhelmed? Or otherwise not in a position to receive feedback successfully? If so, wait a little while. You know the expression “Not my day”. That is the day when everything seems against you and goes wrong. And on such days even if feedback words were ok and on any other day they would be perceived constructively and motivate for action, on the wrong day it all can lead only to crying in the bathroom. So, after crafting a great message, make sure it will have the right impact by arranging support of context and creating a feedback-friendly atmosphere.
- To ensure effective delivery, it is also important to remember that people need to trust you enough to consider your feedback. Otherwise, even great feedback can be wasted.
- About growth. Feedback is about creating a growth mindset. Ask yourself, will my words move the person(-s) to grow and advance? And give your feedback only in case of a positive answer. If not, let’s call a spade a spade, this is criticism, not feedback. To be able to respect and use your feedback, people need to feel motivated in general and believe there are opportunities to grow and advance here and with you, that trying also matters.
- A process. You thought, planned, told and you are done. Well, with feedback, it never works this way. It works only when it is an ongoing process, the part of the company’s NDA.Historically, many employees only get substantive feedback about their performance during an annual review from their direct supervisors. But it is too rare and too formal for the feedback to bring visible results. As a team leader, pay enough attention to your people and their daily work, observe, take notes, interact and then provide feedback as often, as possible. Then check-in over time, by asking, “How did that go?” It should be a continuous loop of feedbacking created in the company and supported by all level employees.
- Bidirectional conversation. Feedback is nota one-way street, it should always include taking the other person’s perspective on board. Even if you are the one giving feedback, listen to the other person’s point of view and if they keep silent encourage opinion sharing by asking do they see the situation the same way. Also, ask how that fits in with what others have said. If they are not able to speak out now, leave them some time to digest the information and discuss their views at a later date.
- Personally owned. You must own the fact that you’re the source of the feedback, not someone else who isn’t present. Don’t offer feedback and then suggest that’s how the team feels about the issue, or that’s how the management feels, or that’s the way the customer sees it. When it is group feedback mention it, but do not wash hands off this.
- Real-time. There is no use crying over spilled milk, as you know. So not to waste the moment, strike while the iron is hot, and deliver your feedback while it is still valid and free in the memory. Usually, the recommended slot is within 48 hours after the event.
Strategies for giving feedback
If you want to be sure that feedback-receivers hear you, understand you, and feel properly motivated to use your feedback, there are several guidelines you’ll want to follow.
- Prepare. Proper preparation is the key to success in many activities. And for the feedback, it is half the battle. So, do prepare. Gather various facts to provide a broad perspective rather than focusing on a one-off event, choose clear examples you can share to illustrate your opinion, select proper words that can make an impact. Even if you asked to provide on-spot feedback do not rush, say that you would like some time to think about it, gather your thoughts, and only then speak out.
- Practice. Even with a structure in place, it’s still worth practising. At least, go over it in your head, especially when you are to give your feedback to amore senior person than you, not to get nervous and mumble the words, or mush-mouth the message. Therefore practice whatever possible way, so that if you are in that situation, and when you are faced with that person there are more chances that the words will come naturally.
- Elaborate the right tone. To have an impact, it is important not only what to say, but how to say it. If you’re delivering constructive feedback, make sure your tone is respectful, supportive and informal suggesting ways to overcome challenges or change behaviours.
- Ask for permission. Well, you want to be prepared, so give the same chance to your interlocutor. Ask to the face or by email, “Do you mind if I share a couple of observations that I had, regarding [X]?” Believe the conversation will be way more constructive if you both are ready for it.
- Creating a forward focus. The key is to use feedback as a way to progress in the future. So, frame your feedback in a way that’s useful and can help the other person to make improvements. And it is your job as a feedback-giver to help the other person explore how they can use this information (facts, data, examples and future opportunities) to enhance their personal performance.
- Provide one type of feedback per conversation. Douglas Stone from Harvard in his book Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well identified three primary forms of feedback:
- Appreciation type is actually telling people, what a great job they are doing and how we appreciate their contribution.
- Coaching, that is exploring with someone different ways of approaching a particular challenge or opportunity.
- Evaluation type is essentially about showing where the person is in comparison with what was initially projected.
- The rule of thumb here is to give one type of feedback at a time. Sometimes in the interest of efficiency, we mix the two types but it is totally wrong. If you want to give appreciation, give appreciation. The most common blunder is to combine coaching and evaluation. Because even if you just had the best coaching conversation anyone has ever experienced and if you combine it with evaluation they basically just totally lose all of the coaching and focus on the evaluation. “Why did I score a three out of five on this?” will be rolling in their heads. So don’t mix the types.
- Avoid the Shit Sandwich. A while back there was a popular technique for feedback beginners called the Sandwich methods. You were advised to start with something positive, then proceed with criticism, and wrap up with praise. But in reality, this method is a crapfest, theatrics, which just makes a feedback-receiver blush for you, feel disrespected, and you look unprofessional and immature. Experienced managers call itThe Shit Sandwich. So be authentic and sincere, spare people from you superficial complimenting and do not try to find positive when it is negative.
When you’re planning to give feedback it is a great idea to use a certain model which is a kind of framework for your conversation and will make it more effective and serve as a path for you to stay the course and as you can afford no wrong turns here.
For instance, coaching model AID has a really good structure, which perfectly suits feedback giving. AID is actually Actions, Impact, Desired.
Actions - describe here what really happened, try to be as objective as you can, and operate facts.
Impact - here you focus on your feelings and impact the actions had on participants.
Desired - and suggest that maybe things could have been done differently in future.
During our daily meeting on Monday, when I was speaking about I noticed that you were reading your Facebook news feed on your phone. (Actions)This was frustrating and embarrassing for me because later you had questions about the information I already covered and this kind of behaviour also sets a poor example for our new team member. (Impact)*Can you, please, make sure, you are more concentrated on what is happening at the meeting and eliminate all distracting factors?*(Desired)
Another feedback-giving framework isSBI, Situation-Behavior-Impact model, developed by the Center for Creative Leadership. It is effective because it is specific, actionable and explains the consequences of the action being discussed.
- Start by describing the situation you’re giving feedback about, concentrate on facts you know exactly, not assumptions, projections or opinions.
- Then, describe the observable behaviour you witnessed. This is most effective when the feedback you’re giving is based on your own observations and not what you’ve heard from others.
- Next, share the impact that behaviour had on you, or others. This should explain the consequences of the action.
Behaviours, Outcome, Feelings, Future. Consists of four steps:
Behaviour - here maximum objectively describe the behaviour using unemotional, specific and non-evaluative adjectives.
Outcome - phrase the consequences that have occurred and/or may occur as a result of the discussed event/behaviour for the business/team/project, as well as the employee themselves.
Feelings- Tell about how you feel the situation. Describe your feelings, emotions, attitude to what is happening.
Future- Discuss and plan the future. Ask what the employee is ready to do/undertake so that in the future this event/behaviour does not take place. Specify the dates for the next meeting where you discuss if the plan worked.
- Jane, I see that two days before the sprint end, you added three new tasks to the sprint backlog. I understand that you followed the customer initiative and requirement. (Behaviour)
- Because of this, the team needed to change their focus, as the new tasks got high priority, and leave out the ongoing tasks. As a result, sprint goals are not reached.(Outcome)
- I feel frustrated that our pre-agreed workflow was broken down. And the team seems demotivated. (Feelings)
- What are you ready to do for us as a team to avoid such situations in the future? (Future)
Well, individual feedback is more familiar, but do not undervalue the importance of group feedback. The goal of individual feedback is to make the person advance, while the focus of group feedback is on group processes, collaboration and common progress. It is designed to bring people together for achieving collective goals.Delivering your feedback to the entire group, you have to be even more careful and thoughtful because
- It can pose much more sizeable risks and the consequences will be corresponding.
- It can lead to false attributions. It is when people don’t understand how to allocate feedback across group members. For example, you’ve just said to a team of five that their uncoordinated actions caused the loss of the client. Each team member will differently perceive their responsibility for this failure. You say one thing to five people and they just might hear five different things.
So to handle these risks here are some safety tips:
- Encourage learning. The core purpose of feedback is talent pool development. So, when delivering it, concentrate on what can be done differently and better next time. Encourage people to move up, but always be specific and straight.No sugar-coating, you can be positive without being all milk and honey.
- Mention the contributions of individuals. This will help to avoid misallocation of responsibility.
- Never criticise publicly. Never pick on an individual in front of the group, all difficult personal comments are always provided in private.
- Followup with small individual feedback. Always remember to follow up with quick, small amounts of individual feedback. This might be face-to-face, or possibly by email or telephone. If the team needs and receives difficult feedback, but there’s one member who was performing well, follow up with them to make sure they know you’re aware of their contribution.
When you learn to balance the use of individual and group feedback, people will on the same page, have clarity about their performance and feel motivated to continue progressing.
Requesting and Receiving feedback
Effectively giving and receiving feedback are two sides of the same coin. Whatever good feedback you are delivering, it will be wasted, if the receiving party is not ready to receive. And if you are the receiving side, it is your responsibility to tune yourself for the reception of whatever you hear, only then you may have graceful reaction and response. When you learn what it takes to receive feedback well, you’ll also master how to provide feedback effectively.
Here some fears, usually associated with feedback asking and receiving.
- Hear criticism. Far from all facilitators give constructive and effective feedback and use the right wording in the process. Often when others suggest improvements it feels like blame or criticism. And out of fear of people’s judgements, many underuse such an effective developmental tool as feedback.
- The risk of looking bad. In some cases, seeking performance feedback can be interpreted as a flaw and negatively affect how others view you.
- Get into psychological discomfort. If delivered, heard or interpreted incorrectly, other people’s judgement may make us feel guilty, ashamed or anxious.
- Pay an ego cost. Our ego might feel bruised when we voluntarily seek out help from others.
- Afraid to be a burden. By asking someone to be involved in our development by providing feedback may seem as if we are using someone’s time for free and not offering anything instead.
To get rid of those fears realise that:
- Feedback is only one source of information about you. Your manager is just a single point of reference for feedback. You can get a full circle input from a broad range of colleagues, peers, direct reports, former managers, maybe even vendors and customers. It is great that some companies, understanding this, implement 360 feedback process and successfully use it.
ProTip here: Never ask your friends for feedback if you want to remain friends!
- Feedback is just a tool, not a personal attack on you, your character or your values. It’s a process that can help you improve at what you do, continue what you’re already good at, and build better relationships with your surrounding. When asking for feedback be clear and honest with yourself, seek feedback with the goal of improving your performance and not managing impressions.
- It is up to you to make it effective. Even if the feedback-giver was not sensitive in how they provided feedback, turn it around. Focus on how you can improve rather than what you were doing wrong, it’ll make the feedback experience more positive and switch your thinking to performance enhancement and continuous development. We cannot influence on what other people say, but definitely wen influence on how we react at their words.
- You are given, what you’ve requested. Request feedback correctly. Don’t ask, “What am I doing wrong?” but rather, “What do I need to do better?” It’ll flip the response into a more positive mode.You also can offset the tendency towards vague input. An effective question will be “Can you provide me with your feedback on A, B, C?” Ask specifically, and you will be answered specifically.
- Feedback-seeking behaviour is a hallmark of a successful professional. If your aim is to become an A-player, ask others what they think about your performance and how you can propel. And do not be afraid to be a burden, you’re not asking anybody to be your coach or mentor, you’re simply seeking a few bits of discrete insight about you from time to time.
So, as you may guess, the advantages of getting feedback are indisputable. In the first place, feedback helps:
- Unveil blind spots. Do you know about your development blind spots? Well, it is a provocative question. For sure, not. You can’t know them because you can’t see them. Blind spots are the areas where you lack awareness and therefore can’t improve. There are always ways when you behave or interact with others that won’t always come across as you intend. Maybe you see yourself as extremely efficient and caring when hightailing to solve even some minor customer problem, but your colleagues, whom you engage in the process, may perceive you as pushy and not understanding their priorities.And the only way to unveil these developmental areas is by requesting feedback from others. Lookers on always see more than players.
- Not to get into the “potential” trap. Let’s face it, you will never reach your full potential if you do not know how you and your actions are perceived by others. Win or lose, you need to challenge the way you process information and respond to events. The easiest way to do this is to consider other perspectives.
- Shape your career. Lack of feedback can undercut your promotion and it can hurt chances of being seen as leaders. We can sometimes get stuck in a rut or get lazy with time. So to move away from a narrow perspective and consider other opportunities, feedback is essential.
- Train your EQ. Emotional intelligence is the competency that needs constant training and development. And the feedback process is the best settings for this. As you can simultaneously practice understanding you and other person’s feelings and manage your reactions.Together with better EQ, your personality maturity will raise as well.
And to fully enjoy all advantages:
- Do some prior self-analysis. Before asking someone to give you feedback, do self-reflection of your own. Think about the area you’re interested in getting feedback on. Jot down things you’re showing promise and what’s gone well. Analyse what skills, knowledge gap, or experience would enable you to make an even bigger difference. These notes prepared before asking for feedback will give you some easy-to-reference talking points and they’ll show the other person you’ve carefully considered your performance yourself.
- Ask for balanced feedback. Ask both for the good and the bad. For example, after the presentation, say to your manager, “You just saw me present in there. What’s one thing that worked well and one thing I could do better next time?”
- Listen actively. You cannot perceive the information appropriately if you are not listening. Face the person, if possible and don’t multitask. Be engaged, attentive, respectful and don’t interrupt. By interrupting you miss out on the opportunity to fully understand what the person is saying. The more effectively you listen, the more prepared your response will be.
- Don’t make premature conclusions. Usually, when people hear something they don’t like or something that clashes with their view of themselves, the ego can step in to distort the situation, and assume the information must be wrong. This is ego protective function but on the flip side, it put is in self-defending mode. So, if you hear something you don’t understand or agree with, probe for more information. Say, “Can you help me understand X better?” Or, “Can you share an example of a time I did A, B, C?”
- Summarise. Firstly mentally for yourself and then aloud. That will prevent you from impulsive judgements and will let the other party know you did hear them correctly. The longer their statement the more useful a summary can be.
The culture of candour
One of the most outstanding books about feedback is Radical Candour: How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean by Kim Scott.Why candour? Because, for sure, civility is important while feedbacking, but candour is imperative. When you are civil with people you try to be nice, positive, and pleasing, caring a lot about not offending someone. It is pretty good. Civil behaviour is a hallmark of professional behaviour and a useful part of healthy team communication. However, great performance comes in direct contact with tough conversations. This is why candour should always surpass civility. Being candid is being honest, sincere, personally caring and always straightforward. No sugar-coating, just professional and somewhat blunt conversation.
For example, when a colleague asks to review her mock-up, she will send to an important client the following day, saying, “nice, I like it,” or “not bad,” or even “it is too bright” is a shot in the eyes, especially if you notice plenty of things to be improved. It is civil, but not helpful. Candid comments are different. They are always specific. Even if you say, “Nice,” quickly add, “Jane, CTA is lost because of the light font and the search filed location seems illogical, as well as, I would recommend making the purple picture less bright.”
But definitely this cannot happen overnight, the team has to be trained and coached properly to learn to see candour as a normal healthy part of learning and improving.