Why is it that the phrase ‘giving feedback’ fills us with such dread? I don’t mean the kind of feedback we’re asked for when we’ve attended a training course. That feedback is easy – either online or on a form, we quite enjoy praising good delivery or content, or having the chance to say how it could be better, in a state of relative anonymity.
But somehow we tend to find one-to-one feedback a completely different ball game. As a manager having to appraise an employee who reports to us, or as a team member needing to give feedback to a colleague or superior if something they are doing isn’t working for some reason. Though we may find it somewhat easier to give positive feedback, the thought of having to sit down and discuss something that someone has or hasn’t done makes even the most eloquent communicators amongst us feel distinctly uncomfortable.
So why the dread? It may be due to one of these reasons:
- Fear of ‘rocking the boat’, causing conflict or being disliked
- Fear of the recriminations it might bring us
- Fear of sounding sycophantic or artificial for praising a job well done
- Not knowing how to start or what to say
- Being surrounded by low organisational levels of trust or inexperienced management
It’s not all about us!
Most of this boils down to what’s going on with our own ‘internal communication’ (our mind chatter) which is very adept at provoking our insecurities in an attempt to provide the ‘protection’ it is so habitually used to offering since we were young. Maybe we had a bad experience in the past when we have shared our opinions with someone. Maybe we aren’t confident that our opinion counts. Or maybe the fear of conflict keeps us from speaking up and making the changes that we need and want.
So, as far as possible, we need to remove ourselves from this equation and see it as an exercise to help others.
When it comes to giving feedback to someone, it’s important to remember three things:
- Much of the feedback we have to offer will be subjective – seen and experienced from our own version of reality. Some of this will be based on facts, but it is likely that these will be mixed with our unique perspective on those facts.
- What really matters most is our intention. What are we hoping to achieve from giving this feedback? Is it for a better situation for ourselves, or is it to help the other person? Feedback given with the express intention to help the other person is the best type of feedback you can give and, given authentically with the intention in mind, ought to be able to remove the dread that we feel in giving it. And it’s true that feedback taken well and acted upon may have a knock-on effect for us too, if the behaviour or situation was impacting us in some way.
- As much as imparting our feedback, it’s important to listen. To listen to the other person’s circumstances, their issues around it and any help they need or are asking for in relation to the situation.
8 key points to giving feedback effectively and comfortably
- Adopt a positive intent – check that your intention is to help the person. Question yourself – ‘why am I feeling I want to give feedback? What do I hope to get out of it?’
- Face the situation – be confident that giving feedback is a valuable and constructive way to help another person improve. It also shows a level of professionalism and emotional intelligence. Create the right environment.
- Ask the person if they are willing/ready to receive your feedback – maybe there isn’t a whole lot of choice, such as with corporate appraisal or development plans that are mandatory for every employee. In which case, the question might be more centred around ‘when are you ready to receive feedback?’ But genuinely, how many of us tend to rock up to someone and plough in with our comments (even if they are positive ones) without asking them if they are open to them in the first place?
- Include the positives – e.g. “You really put your message over well – do you think if you had answered the manager’s first question, he would have been more receptive to your idea?” or “Here’s where you really made a strong impression and my thoughts on what you could do better next time.”
- Avoid judgements – talk about factual events and behaviours rather than perceptions and opinions. E.g. “I noticed you didn’t hand your report in on Friday as I asked”, rather than “You’re always late with your work.”
- Focus on their behaviour and the impact on you or others – rather than their personality, or simply what you think of what they did. E.g. “when you arrive late, it has an impact on the time for the discussion because by then we have split into pairs, so we stop and regroup …” This gives them a chance to reflect on the impact and to think how to make changes and improvements.
- Use ‘I’ statements – such as “I observed that…” rather than “some say that” or simply moving into “you don’t turn up on time for our meetings”, so that you own responsibility for your feedback.
- Listen fully and empathically, and ask questions – when you have delivered your feedback, really listen to what the other person wants to say. They may wish to give their view of the situation, correct any misunderstandings, speak about their intentions which led them to this situation, or simply ask for help.
Help them do this by asking questions, allowing them to explore the situation for themselves.
These principles stand true whether you are giving feedback to a colleague or your manager. With a manager, however, it is more likely that you are going to be sharing your comments on an ad hoc situation rather than giving feedback in a planned session (unless your manger openly encourages regular feedback from the team). And whomever it is, it’s a good idea to develop a process or template, such as ‘STAR’, and use that each time you give feedback.
‘STAR’ for Feedback
S – Situation (background to situation)
“In our meeting last Friday, we agreed that you would have the monthly report to me by Wednesday morning.”
T – Task (type of task being undertaken)
“I understand this means pulling data from our production system and analysing our volumes year to date.”
A – Action (that was taken by the person)
“It’s now Thursday and I haven’t received the report as yet. I needed the report for information to be able to make a decision that was due last night.”
R – Result/impact (of the action taken)
“I need to talk to my senior managers to let them know why I missed the deadline, and when I am going to take the decision. Would you talk me through what happened to see if I can help you plan your workloads?”
- Giving feedback is a positive exercise, aimed at helping a person or situation.
- One of the most important things is to be clear on your intention – and that will drive the conversation.
- The other important thing is to listen to the other’s views. The situation might be different to how you have experienced it and further discussion might be needed to get to the hub of the issue.
- It’s also key to ask plenty of questions to investigate the situation from the other person’s point of view.
- Keep the discussion clean (without judgement) and constructive, using facts and observations rather than perspectives to illustrate your points.
- Move positively towards offering help for solving any issues.
Penelope Newton-Hurley is a Communication Troubleshooter,Consultant, Trainer and Mediator
The Communication Troubleshooter helps drive engagement and
performance through Emotional Intelligence and
Resolution-based CommPassion© Communication techniques.
Find out more at www.thecommtroubleshooter.co.uk
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