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Does your blood run cold when someone says "can I give you feedback?", or when you're asked to give it? You’re not alone.
In a culture obsessed with taking offence, it can be tempting to avoid difficult conversations. Let's look at the 7 aspects of delivering feedback with confidence instead of fear.
Worth the risk.
It may come as a surprise, but working with people is risky. Not everyone is going to get along, and there’ll be moments when we disagree, make mistakes and create messes in the process.
The feedback experience shouldn’t provoke feelings of anxiety and fear, yet it does. This can be attributed to a blend of bad past experiences, and people simply not knowing how to deliver feedback properly. But there is hope.
“Respect is love in plain clothes” - Frankie Byrne
If the way we deliver feedback is motivated by respect and driven by love, then it’s a risk worth taking.
It’s not you... it's... us.
For feedback to be a productive exercise, the onus for improvement falls with both camps; the sender and receiver.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw
Senders - common problems
As people delivering correction, there is a propensity to unknowingly come across as superior. This can put the receiver on edge, causing them to become defensive and unreceptive to change - a feedback fail.
Receivers - common problems
As recipients of feedback, we can feel like it’s an opportunity for the other person to tear us to pieces, all in the name of ‘helping’. Being in this emotional state isn’t productive. It can lead to missing out on valuable learnings and can make us vulnerable to feeling hurt - a feedback fail
7 keys to deliver better Feedback
From the outset, it’s helpful to manage your expectations by understanding that feedback isn’t mediation, intervention, discipline or a fight. It is however, a moment to respectfully bring correction to a situation that requires improvement.
When you have plan to deliver feedback, you won’t shy away from difficult conversations, because you know that people are going to grow as a result. Let’s dive into the 7 point plan.
1 - Right people.
Who are the characters involved in your feedback story? It is equally important to know who to include and exclude from the conversation. Consider the following:
- Who is the feedback for?
Do you have rapport with them?
Who is the right person to give the feedback? Could it be someone other than you?
Who else needs to be present? Do you, or the other person need support? Both people should be careful not to create the appearance of ganging up.
Does the situation require a mediator? If so, this is different from feedback.
Who could give advice to you, prior to the feedback session? Mentor, boss etc.
2 - Right time.
The timing of feedback dramatically affects how productive the conversation becomes.
Immediate: Give feedback as soon as reasonable after a situation has occurred, so that your comments are relevant. As time elapses, the chance of being interpreted incorrectly, increases.
Delayed: There are times when immediate feedback is not helpful, and can actually make things worse. Rather than giving immediate feedback during time-sensitive, high stress events, instead consider ‘flagging’ a feedback session for later. However, waiting too long can cause people to feel anxious because you’re ‘holding it over their head’.
Routine: In workplaces, it’s healthy to create an expectation for routine feedback sessions (weekly, monthly.
3 - Right place.
It’s commonly said we should praise in public, and correct in private. How can we implement this advice? You can establish a ‘safe’ place by contemplating the following:
Common ground: Is there a neutral place that gives both people an equal emotional footing? Eg: a lounge area, instead of a senior office.
Openness: Consider leaving your door slightly ajar, windows open or meeting outside. This can help depressurise the conversation.
Formality: Is the feedback session going to be formal for informal? This will affect your choice of location.
4 - Right message.
Before we schedule a time for feedback, we need to ensure that our message is clear and that our motives are pure.
Reflect on your feelings. Do you genuinely desire to help the other person, or simply get things off your chest?
Do you want to prove a point? This will create discussion imbalance.
Upon reflection, is the issue actually of little consequence? Is it even necessary to analyse it?
Which personal values or emotions do you feel challenged about? Eg: injustice, work ethic etc.
Prepare: Do a mental ‘walk through’ how you think the meeting might transpire.
Issues: Only include a few (2-3) issues. Bringing a long list can leave the recipient feeling attacked.
Achievable: Focus on issues that the person can actually change. Empower them with hope of improvement.
Benchmarks: Are there mutually understood guidelines? This will help those involved to understand expectations and promises.
Forward: Talk in a forward direction, rather than talking in circles and rehashing the issue.
Action: Encourage them to act as a result of the discussion.
“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” – Ken Blanchard
5 - Right method.
As they say, sometimes the medium is the message. The method you choose to convey your feedback through, says more about you and ideas, that you may think. Sending an email might appear like you want to avoid confrontation, when actually you’re emailing because you can better order your thoughts.
In person: Best and most courteous option, body language is readily understood.
Video meeting: Good for long distance teams, although body language is harder to interpret.
Phone: Moderately effective, relies on vocal tone instead of body language to convey mood.
Email/Text Message: Risky, more opportunity for tone to be misread.
Regardless of the method of communication you choose, do everything you can to be readily understood. Consider how the communication method will affect the following:
Your tone of voice.
Your body language.
Opportunities to clarify (questions).
6 - Right language.
“Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.” – Frank A. Clark
The language we choose needs to nourish people, yet also be clear enough to prompt change. Here's some points to ponder when it comes to language:
Speculation: Stick to what happened, rather than why you think it happened. Presuming you know people’s motives creates further tension.
Impact: Speak about the impact that the person's behaviour had on those around them. It prevents it from becoming too personal, by bringing perspective.
Generalisations: Avoid words that create defensiveness, causing the others to shut down. For example, saying they “never” or “always” do a certain thing, discredits your feedback by confusing it with blame.
Conjunctive words: Be aware of giving someone a compliment followed by a word like “but”. It can sometimes void the affirmation before the constructive criticism. Conjunctive words include “and, but, or, so and yet” etc.
Adjectives: Resist dramatising your points by overusing adjectives.
Prepare: Think ahead to how you will respond if the feedback session takes an unexpected turn (for better or worse). This reduces the chance of saying something you live to regret.
7 - Right exchange.
There’s a reason we have two ears and only one mouth. Feedback can be a positive exercise when both parties feel heard and understood. Here’s some tips to managing the exchange:
Affirm: Establish from the beginning that you value the other person, and as a result respect them enough have a feedback discussion. Be specific in how you affirm.
Viewpoints: Before presenting your points, offer them an opportunity to share their perspective (often this can reduce points for discussion).
Pause: After speaking, allow each other to collect their thoughts and respond instead of reacting.
Wait: Resist interrupting to correct information, allow them time to talk it through.
Keys: Actively listen for keywords or facts.
Repeat: In your own words, repeat back to them what you heard they say. This demonstrates that you understand.
Insight: Ask them to think about what they could do to improve their behaviour/situation, rather than you simply telling them. This creates a healthier sense of responsibility, and increases their motivation to change.
Balance: Where possible, bring balance by including your own shortcomings if you feel it serves the cause. This creates empathy, by showing them that you’re human too.
The Feedback Hamburger Model
There's plenty of feedback frameworks, but none of them are as simple, or as tasty, as the Feedback Hamburger! We tend to remember things in sets of 3, so this model makes it easy to recall.
- Bun on top = Start by providing genuine, positive affirmation. Demonstrate that you value them by being specific in the comments you offer. Beware of giving meaningless compliments.
- Meat in the middle = Once you've created an positive atmosphere, and the person is receptive, now is the opportunity to provide the constructive feedback comments.
- Bun underneath = Finish the conversation by again affirming the person. Ahead of time, carefully consider your closing remarks, as these will be remembered most.
Over to you.
Let’s recap the 7 keys to delivering life-building feedback to those you lead and love:
Which of these elements have you had previous success with?
Which of them do find difficult?
Which elements could you focus on more next time?
Have an amazing week, N.