Feedback is one of the most helpful and important things we all need to learn, grow, and improve.
Furthermore, delivering skillful feedback can serve you well in all aspects of life.
And yet in working with businesses and coaching clients, I hear time and time again how uncomfortable people are with the idea of giving feedback. I see the negative consequences of organizations and teams who avoid feedback – conflict, frustration, and stagnation.
If giving great feedback is an important skill for business leadership and performance, what is it that makes people so apprehensive about it?
Let’s break it down and then look at some simple strategies for delivering effective feedback.
Effective Feedback is Simple, Right?
First, let’s define what effective feedback is. Very simply, effective feedback:
- Enables the receiver to understand what he or she did.
- It motivates the person to change behavior in a way the positively affects performance.
Good feedback is clear, specific, non-judgmental, and timely. Sounds simple enough, right?
Common Mistakes When Delivering Feedback
In reality, giving feedback can be difficult because people have a different perspective on what it is. They may see it as confrontational, which in turn results in feeling anxious. The anxiety can lead to avoidance or perhaps delivery of “non-effective” feedback.
With avoidance, unhelpful behaviors can carry on for a long time and become entrenched. You miss the opportunity to address them. With non-effective feedback (for example, if you “soften the blow” or begin to criticize the person), the receiver gets an unclear message, which prevents them from experiencing a genuine opportunity to learn. Either of these can set off a negative chain of events that ultimately limits the growth of individuals, teams, and entire organizations.
Another mistake I see is that people assume feedback should be confined to formal supervisory relationships or performance reviews. This is extremely limiting and again robs people and teams of the daily opportunity to learn and get better.
Building a Culture of Great Feedback
So, how can we do better and build a culture of giving great feedback? First, let’s start by reframing what feedback is really about. Its purpose is to be helpful – to give people a chance to understand where they can improve and achieve their best. If you adopt the mindset that you are helping as opposed to criticizing, it can change the entire experience of giving feedback.
Think about the people you care about in your life – you’re willing to share feedback with them because you want them to be successful. Apply this same mindset to any situation and it will take some of the pressure off.
Once you re-think what feedback is all about, you can use some simple strategies to construct and deliver it effectively.
Constructing Effective Feedback
First, let’s construct the feedback using a very basic approach:
- Describe the situation and behavior you observed.
- Describe the impact.
Here is a simple example – “John, you were 15 minutes late to the team meeting this morning. We waited for you which resulted in the team skipping over some important agenda items. What happened?”
Let’s look at this a little deeper to see why this works. Remember, we’re doing this to help both John and the team get better.
- It's clear and straightforward. There isn’t anything for John to misinterpret.
- It's specific. The feedback identifies John’s specific behavior, the situation, and its impact.
- It's non-judgmental and avoids being pre-loaded with misconceptions on why John is late. It is emotionally neutral. John is given a chance to respond.
- It's timely as the feedback is being delivered on the same day that the issue occurred.
If the behavior continues, subsequent feedback should address the pattern and clearly identify the consequences that will follow.
If you find yourself still feeling uncomfortable about delivering a message like this, here are a few thoughts to consider.
- With practice and by experiencing success, you will build the capacity to do this without the anxiety.
- Think about the potential consequences of letting this go. What seems small can quickly become a pattern of unproductive behavior that will undermine your team and leadership. Nip it in the bud before it gets worse.
- Finally, remember again that you are helping John. If he is to have a positive future in the organization, he needs to recognize that timeliness is an important value. John is better off hearing this as he now has an opportunity to do better in the future. In the absence of feedback, the team may ostracize or marginalize John, which is bad for both him and the organization.
- Finally, feedback absolutely can and should be “positive.” We should, of course, all be mindful of sharing our observations of people doing positive things. This shows your support and fosters continued growth and progress. However, for the sake of improving your feedback skills, think of all feedback as positive or even neutral. All feedback is helpful, whether it's sharing what is going well or sharing what needs to change.
By following this simple approach to delivering effective feedback, you will enhance your leadership skills while fostering learning and growth in those around you.
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About the Author
CO-FOUNDER | LEADERSHIP, BUSINESS STRATEGY, MANAGEMENT, COACH, TRAINER, AND FACILITATOR
Seth Sinclair is a leadership coach, management consultant, trainer, and facilitator with a passion for helping his clients achieve their personal and professional goals. Reach out by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org or learn more on our About page.