8 Mistakes You Make While Giving Constructive Feedback
Wouldn’t you like to know that you can change something before it becomes a serious problem? Feedback is a gift. Given with a good intention of taking care of someone it will lead to a further development and a strong collaboration. Unluckily, it happens that feedback is given incorrectly and it does more harm than good and in consequence leads to decreased productivity or engagement.
Below you can find eight most common mistakes made while giving constructive feedback. Double check if you haven't made one of these.
There is a psychoanalytic theory on human behaviour called Transactional Analysis in which Eric Berne points out four typical positions people tend to take in different situations in life. One of them is “I am ok, you are not ok” which we often exhibit for example while giving corrective feedback. But you should not act like that. While giving corrective feedback our aim should not be to prove that someone is wrong, but to show that something can be done differently with a better result for the receiver. Our position should be here “I am ok, your are ok”. This helps to maintain neutrality and objectivity. Always give feedback to learn and support not to win. Feedback should be about actions not individuals.
It is a human natural tendency to sugar-coat. Why? Because everyone wants to be nice and everyone wants to be likeable. But when you give corrective/negative feedback you must get to the point. Putting your negative message between positive ones is one of the most common mistakes people do. It increases the danger that the message you really want to communicate can get lost. Do not make people read between the lines. Be precise and transparent. Avoid mixed messages. End on a supportive, but clear note what behaviour should be changed and how to do it. When you have an important message to convey it is more effective to focus on doing this clearly instead of wrapping it into positive bullsh**.
When we use the term feedback, it is much about feed-forward. Help a person understand what the specific behavior should look like in the future. Unactionable feedback is the most frustrating and confusing thing you can do. Unactionable feedback only tells there is a problem, but there are not specific actions that should follow. It makes really hard for the person to change the situation and meet new expectations. When you give feedback, clarify why and how the person shall tackle the problem. Give a clear direction what is expected and what kind of the impact you are anticipating. The receiver shall be aware what they have to do to fix the problem and rectify the situation. Feedback should be a learning experience.
Avoid exaggerations like “always”, “never” etc. Be specific and mention a specific time someone did something really well or a time where they fell short. Using sarcastic comments or inside jokes is also not a good idea. Another problem is using very vague language. Not only it confuses the receiver but also stresses them out. If there is no clear idea what is wrong or how to change or improve, there is no chance at creating a success. In the end we witness the situation that the receiver of feedback does not get it, and the giver feels unheard or devalued. As the giver you should focus on describing a specific behaviour.
An effective feedback requires a two-way conversation. It should keep the balance between asking and telling. As a feedback giver you have to remember that after introducing the issue you want to address, you also should ask for your receiver’s point of view. Questions allow for a better understanding of the situation. They help to uncover extra insights before you decide on next steps. People to whom you may give feedback have to get a chance to respond. There should be time to clarify, comprehend and process. Without that your perspective is very limited. In feedback process, both sides - the give'sr and the receiver's, should be active participants. After you give feedback, you may even ask the person to paraphrase what they heard, to ensure they understand it.
Don’t engage third parties and make the situation even more confusing. What others tell you should not be brought into the feedback. The main message to process is what you feel or see. Feedback must come from you. It is not a good idea to let other influence your opinions. Focus on your working opinion and your experience with working with a particular person. Provide feedback based on the actions that took place and the task(s) that has or has not been done as expected. Point to specific behaviorus - instead of saying “you lack confidence” go with “you didn’t contribute in our last meetings. You were silent all the time. The client was disappointed. What is wrong?”. Ensure your feedback includes facts not personal biases and preferences.
Even though it is advisable to provide feedback immediately after something happens, under some circumstances it is just better to wait. When someone in our team makes a mistake with a really negative consequence, we quite easily get upset and it is a quick way to act emotionally. The best we can do in such a situation is to take a breath, assess coldly a situation, prepare a plan and then deliver feedback. Never share feedback when you are furious, sad or under some negative emotions. Cool down and then provide feedback. Otherwise you may regret what you said.
If you want your feedback to resonate and result in a change of someone’s behaviour, you must plan some opportunities for follow-up meetings. Imagine you want to give up smoking, chocolate, anything… How much time does it take? Is it enough to tell yourself once to stop doing it and immediately your behaviour will change? Feedback needs follow-ups to check on the success or failure of a process or some modifications that should have been introduced to make something better. Feedback follow-ups are not a one-time meeting and it is possible you would have to do them continuously for some period of time. Without them you are not capable of comparing the actual performance of what is expected and with the past. The repetition will reinforce your message.
For feedback to have an impact both sides have to be open to change, adaptable to what is given, and resilient. Don’t be afraid of giving feedback. And don’t avoid giving it. With some preparation you can really do it well. You can keep in mind a real life situation that you have some spinach on your teeth after eating dinner. Would you like people at work pretend everything is ok and do not say a word? Imagine that you are just before an important meeting with a client or in a moment you are going to show a significant presentation to your team. Even though it is sometimes awkward, probably you would like someone tell you about it so that you can clean it. I would not like to spend the whole day in the office talking with people with something on my teeth.