Feedback - Make It Simple
According to Gallup research people who get regular meaningful feedback at work are four times more likely than other employees to be engaged and enthusiastic about their workplace and 3.6 times more motivated to do outstanding work. Feedback seems to be a simple way to a professional success and a better team's performance, but in fact the whole process is not always as simple as we wish. Why?
When we are giving corrective feedback, almost always it causes a threat response in a recipient’s mind. It is a consequence of a neurological process that takes place in the recipient’s brain where amygdala (the part of brain responsible for processing fearful and threatening stimuli), feels hijacked and limits our ability to response rationally. Our brain frequently interprets corrective feedback as negative and threatening. When we hear it, we disregulate and start looking for some excuses. The very first reaction of being evaluated is switch on of our self-defense mechanism.
The process may not seem to be super brain friendly at the first glance, but with an appropriate approach we can make it an effective tool for development and effective collaboration. One may ask if there is some toolbox of a good feedback giver and receiver and I would say yes - there is. We may follow and apply a few simple rules that can help us deliver a message in a hearable and understandable way with reducing ambiguities. But above all we have to stay open and honest with the person about what is going on and why.
A very common problem with giving corrective feedback is the fact that we are either too direct in that or we just beat around the bush and the person does not realise there is any feedback at all. Or what is worse the recipients does not feel the critical value of it.
Being direct means that we can tell the person the truth in such a way that they understand that their behaviour needs to be changed. We are specific about what we expect from the feedbackee. We also offer some tips on how they can achieve the desired outcome in the nearest future. Show the impact of your feedback - name how the data impact your (the giver) behaviour. It provides the logic. Remember that being direct does not mean intentionally insulting or hurting the recipient’s feelings.
The receiver should also have an opportunity to say if he agrees or disagrees with what have been said to him/her. There should be space for some questions.
Daniel Goleman, social scientist and researcher, defines empathy as a skill at sensing other people’s emotions, understanding their perspective, and taking an active interest in their concerns. Empathy is an elementary component of social awareness and it is crucial and powerful element of effective feedback process.
That is why, while being direct we cannot forget about staying empathic. Both giving and receiving feedback require an extra dose of sensitivity. Feedback is always an emotional process and we do not want it to be followed by feelings of embarrassment or anger.
Especially as feedback givers we have to be careful while giving insights about someone’s behaviour as they may not be consistent with the way our recipient sees herself or himself. That is the moment when empathy comes to the rescue. It helps us understand what other party is experiencing right now. The more empathy we may have for other’s person experience and feelings the easier it will be to understand their perspective of the problem.
Because blurred words mean different things for different people. It is really risky to tell someone “be more productive”, “you are unreliable” or “be more positive.” These are words everyone may interpret in a different way. Adjectives are generally rather tricky. Use specific words.
It is much more advisable to use some precise examples of behaviours. So, instead of saying “don’t be so grumpy” you may say “you complain about every step we make in a project. It diminishes the morale of the whole team and sometimes makes everyone around feel demotivated. I really appreciate your opinions but please try to see also advantages of each step we plan.” The more specific you can be, the easier it is for the other person to take that feedback and turn it into action.
Before you actually share feedback, tell your employee, co-worker, boss, whoever that you are going to do it. There is nothing worse than a situation when the person you want to talk to has no idea what you want to talk about.
Do not send mysterious messages such as “do you have 5 minutes to talk?”. To talk about what? Do not make the person wonder about the subject and goal of your meeting. Ask with some short, but precise question/notice like “would you find 5 minutes to talk about how the last conversation with the client went?”. The receiver knows that the feedback is about to be given. Subconsciously we are much better prepared to receive the feedback well when we know it is coming. Give the context in advance what the conversation will be about. Avoid potential confusion.
The feedback is not about how we define ourselves and it is not about our personality. It is a tool that we can use to learn and change some of our behaviours, but it does not define our value as human beings.
Always try to focus on a particular behaviour, its impact and your feelings. Instead of saying “you are XYZ” try to start the statement with what you are feeling because of the situation that has happened. Give feedback from your perspective. This way you avoid labeling the person.
Both givers and recipients of feedback have to understand that behind feedback there should be always a good intention, the intention of caring about someone. Well-given feedback will build someone up not bring them down.
To make the most of feedback sessions we have to make them regular. Thanks to that people know where they stand and there is not much surprise when something needs to be improved. Simple feedback should be given on daily or weekly basis, depending on the situation. Then people have time to change their performance and check if they are going in the direction as expected.
To do that, make sure you are giving feedback and asking for feedback in a timely manner. Avoid giving feedback on something that happened some time ago since the incident is no longer timely and relevant. But it is also advisable to wait a few hours or till the next day to share your insights as the immediate feedback is usually much more negative than we may intend.
Giving feedback and receiving it is a skill. And like all skills, it needs practice. Confucius said that it does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop and it is very true when we think about feedback. As long as we exchange feedback in our team we will move forward and we will create a meaningful change in the organisation. It is a resilient and consistent upward effort, but it brings fruits of long lasting trust, collaboration and engagement.