It is a tricky subject feedback; sometimes it is wanted, at other times it is not. Sometimes it is helpful, at other times not. Sometimes it needs to be caring and encouraging, whilst at other times a strong arm suffices. How, when and by whom feedback is delivered has a massive impact on how it is received and acted upon.
Take my sons’ teachers for example. Generally when it comes to parent teacher interaction, it depends on who has requested the meeting that determines who gets to speak first. In the case of parents’ evenings, it is my job to sit there (and do my best) to keep quiet whilst the teacher gives me a run-down of how my boys are doing. I listen intently whilst I am told if they are meeting their targets, what their behaviour is like, whether they are a willing pupil etc. The format is exactly the same for all the parents. I know what is coming next as I will have heard the previous parents go through the same thing. Only once they have completed their list of things to cover do the teachers ask if I have any questions – sound familiar? But, how does that work for my boy who still experiences some learning issues because of his expressive speech delay? It can be very depressing to hear the reality of how far behind he is compared to his peers. To be quite honest, how either of my boys is performing against his peers is not what I want to know. I want the teacher to simply talk to me about my boys, to demonstrate what that they know about my children and tell me how they interact with them. Probably most importantly, I want what they chat to me about, to be current, relevant and accurate. I have come to expect comments regarding my son’s (lack of) academic ability to be sandwiched between compliments on his ‘sunny disposition,’ that is the reality of being a parent of a child with learning difficulties, but woe betide the teacher who fails to meet my basic requirements.
If you were to take the time to reflect on your last few feedback sessions, in both giving and receiving, how similar would they be to a parent teacher interview? If you were giving the feedback, did you speak first and say everything you needed to say before you invited the receiver to comment? Was what you were saying current, relevant and accurate, or was it a few days old which meant you could not remember specific facts or you did not have the notes to provide the evidence for your observation? Did the feedback session demonstrate your knowledge of the person and how they communicated or did it simply cover all the points necessary to meet the assessment criteria?
Practise giving feedback often; soon it will become a habit
Good feedback allows both parties to reflect on what they have both learned from the experience. For the receiver, they can use the information about their reactions or their performance of a task, as a basis for improvement. Praise as part of a feedback session frequently results in a desired change in the recipient’s behaviour. Why then can giving good productive feedback be so problematic? We frequently hear of the dislike of giving feedback and how many do not think they are as effective as they could be. Those on the receiving end say they do not get enough feedback they can actually use – just as in my parent teacher interviews. I already know my son has a sunny disposition; what I want to focus on is how the core requirement of written English is improving on paper, as this has a direct bearing on the improvement of his grades across all subjects. So what can we do to change this?
Give feedback often
Feedback works best when it is a continual process, rather than a formal session once or twice a year. In fact, experts agree that the yearly performance appraisal is the worst time to surprise an employee with negative feedback. You are nervous and so is the employee. Emotions are running high, with pulse rates up and adrenaline flowing, the natural response is fight or flight, not the thoughtfulness an effective feedback session requires.
Practise giving feedback often; soon it will become a habit. Praise good performance right away. When negative feedback is required, talk with the employee within 24 hours.Do not let any previously drawn conclusions about a person lead you astray in a feedback session; a character attack provides no information and does not offer any actionable ideas for change.
Before a feedback session, find concrete data that may or may not support your conclusions. Your goal is to gather evidence that will allow you to describe the specific behaviour upon which you are providing feedback. Focus on what the person has done or not done, without judging their intent. Avoid statements that begin ‘You always. . .’ or ‘You never. . .’ Next describe the impact of that behaviour. Tell the person how their behaviour is affecting you, the team or the business. Finally, describe what you want the person to do differently. People cannot read your mind so be explicit about what needs to change.
Do not assume you are right
Approach the feedback session with the goal of getting a complete and accurate picture of the situation. Just as you want your employee to listen with a willingness to be influenced by what they hear, you need to be willing to be influenced by what you hear. Even after you have collected your information, be aware that you may still not have the complete picture. Other people may not see this person’s behavior as you do. Furthermore, the employee will have their own side of the story. Reasonable people do differ about all these things!
To make this a learning conversation for you both, ask questions to get them (and you) thinking. How do they see the situation? How do they want to do things differently next time? What do they think works, and would could have gone better? Questions like these establish a supportive atmosphere in which the employee can explore alternative approaches that might produce better results. The more an individual thinks about improving their performance, the more committed they are to making it happen as they feel like they are making the decisions they are in control.
If you dread giving feedback, you can feel that once you have had the conversation, you are done. There is a big difference between understanding and changing; follow through is vital if you want your employees to make the leap. Ask them what they think the next steps are, and how you can support their progress? Plan to meet again -soon. Consider yourself a catalyst for the change you would like to see. Feedback needs to be neither a tricky subject or unwelcome. However, the timing of and the manner in which feedback is delivered has a massive impact on how it is received and acted upon. Whatever structure you use and whatever the feedback session relates to, remember these key elements and you will be well on your way to giving effective feedback all the time, every time, whatever the circumstances.
Practise giving feedback often; soon it will become a habit