I used to dread giving feedback to others. Like many people, I would either avoid the conversation altogether or get so frustrated I said something I later regretted. Once I learned specific skills around giving feedback, I felt much more confident in doing so. Today, I aim to provide timely feedback in an on-going way. This has led to much healthier workplace relationships and behavioural change that has improved performance.
Here is a recipe I find useful in giving effective feedback.
1. Develop an assertive mindset.
Being assertive – compared to being aggressive or passive – requires being forthright about your ideas, wants and needs while considering the rights, ideas, needs and wants of others. Tell yourself these messages when you are preparing to give someone feedback.
- We are all responsible for our choices and behaviour.
- I am free to express my wishes, thoughts and feelings and encourage others to do the same.
- I can speak up when I feel compelled.
- Being straightforward is usually best.
2. Plan a time, location and what to say.
After cultivating an assertive mindset, I recommend thoughtful preparation prior to speaking directly to the person about feedback.
- A good time for both parties to talk
- A private location that allows for a one-on-one conversation
- What you will say
- How to avoid guessing at reasons behind the behaviour
- How to stay curious and listen once the feedback has been offered
- How you will state the behaviour you expect
3. Name specific behaviour.
Once sitting with the person, try to use casual and relaxed body language. I suggest communicating openness and warmth to reduce feelings of defensiveness. Consider starting the conversation by saying something like, “Thank you so much for coming to talk with me. There is something I wanted to discuss with you that I hope will help both of us be more successful.”
Next, name the specific behaviour or concern you are providing feedback about. Avoid offering judgements or making assumptions about the person or their character. For example, rather than saying, “The way you answer your emails is unprofessional,” you might try, “I have received a number of email replies from you containing incorrect spelling and grammar.” The more specific and objective you are with your description of the behaviour, the less likely it is for the person to debate with you.
4. Align feedback with personal or organizational goals.
The most effective feedback is information that is provided in relation to individual or organizational goals. In some cases, it will be important to remind the person about a particular goal and the criteria by which they should self-assess their performance. For example, “As we prepare emails, it is important to remember how we want to set ourselves apart from the competition and show we are competent, detail-oriented and professional in everything we do.”
After stating the behaviour of concern, it is now vital to listen for their response. I often invite the person to share what it is like for them to hear this feedback by asking open-ended questions such as:
- What thoughts are running through your mind right now?
- What is your perspective on this?
- What do you think?
- How does this sit with you?
After listening to their response and engaging in a dialogue about the behaviour of concern, problem-solving can follow. If a solution does not emerge naturally from the conversation, you will have prepared ideas and concrete expectations that can be offered.
One simple way to deal with a desired change in behaviour is to transpose a negative behaviour into a request that clarifies the behaviour you would like from the other person. For example, “When you reply to an email, please ensure you have run a spell check and re-read it for correct grammar and punctuation.”
Giving and receiving feedback is not easy. By preparing yourself, being specific with your feedback and listening with the intention of problem-solving, relationships that are the foundation of change can grow.