Giving engaging feedback

It often amazes me that people are reluctant to give each other feedback in the workplace. On the one hand, I understand that some people hold back on giving constructive feedback as they worry about how the other person will respond. But on the other hand, inaction leaves performance problems go unaddressed and build over time.

Even when constructive feedback is given, it is not always done well. I find that people are not giving enough positive feedback either – due to either not appreciating the importance of recognition or getting stuck in unnecessary paperwork.

Here are five keys you can use to get a better result from any feedback you give.

The first is that feedback is always better received from those with whom we have a good relationship. So get to really know your co-workers and manager and let them get to know you. Chat with them, tease them, laugh with them, and be human. You are effectively placing deposits in the emotional bank account of that relationship which increases the likelihood of your feedback being well-received.

Feedback also needs to be occurring regularly, not just out-of-the blue. A yearly appraisal is nowhere near good enough. Touch base with your workmates at least on a weekly basis, letting them know what you are happy about. Some staff with a strong need for connection or recognition need feedback even more frequently.

When you are giving positive feedback, you have to mean what you say, of course. If people sense you are not being genuine they will simply feel patronized. Positive feedback also has to be specific and targeted towards those things the individual values about themselves.

Recently, I had to MC a meeting of the National Speakers’ Association. Although a good number of people told me they enjoyed my hosting of the evening, there was one who said they appreciated that I was in control of the program, there was a smooth transition between speakers, and I balanced my humour with respect for the speakers that evening. Positive feedback that is specific and meaningful to the person is always better received.

Constructive feedback is always easier to give when it is asked for. But you will find constructive comments are better received when they are outweighed by five times more positive feedback. This does not mean that when you give feedback there needs to be five compliments followed by one criticism. I am referring to your interactions with that person overall.

Of course, constructive feedback needs to be given in ways seen as respectful by the person receiving it. So although your intentions may be respectful, it is important to monitor how your feedback is being received and to adjust yourself for the individual. For most people, simply sounding respectful and speaking to them privately will be sufficient.

For the sensitive types, you can allow them to save face by criticising yourself first – perhaps you weren’t clear in what you were expecting from them. If you are going to criticise, keep this to their behaviour and not them as a person. You can soften the blow by using the ‘kiss, kick, kiss’ approach, where you start and finish on a positive note.

You can also say what you would prefer to see rather than what you dislike. There is a difference between saying, ‘You’re a self-centred, control-freak!’ and saying, ‘I really would like to have more say in how I do things.’ But you are allowed to think the former.

Feedback is also better received if you are open to feedback yourself. Sometimes feedback will be uninvited, given poorly, and you may be feeling defensive. But remind yourself that it is only feedback. You won’t die from it and it is good that any frustrations are coming out. Apologise and agree where you can before offering something for the future. For example, ‘I’m sorry if I came across that way. And I agree you do need to have some say in how you do your work. How would you like to do your work differently?’

If you are in management, make it easy for others to give you feedback. Staff surveys are one option, but you can also do so by routinely asking, ‘What can I do to better support you in your role?’ You can also let them know you know you are not perfect and will be OK if they give you constructive comments. You could say,‘I know I have been caught up in my paperwork and haven’t touched base with you much of late. What do you need from me so you can feel better about your work?'

So, that’s it. You can give engaging feedback by ...

  1. Having a good relationship with that person
  2. Being frequent, genuine, and specific with your feedback
  3. Giving five times more positive feedback than constructive feedback overall
  4. Monitoring how the other person is responding and adjusting your approach
  5. Being open to feedback yourself

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