How To Give Feedback

How To Give Feedback

Giving feedback to your team provides them with a crucial insight into how well they’re progressing in their career, but it’s not always the easiest thing to deliver – especially if it’s negative. We asked the experts how you can give constructive criticism in a way that'll leave all parties feeling positive and appreciated…

Remember: Feedback Is A Good Thing

It could be that we’re all looking at feedback the wrong way – Tracey Livingston, Life Coach and founder of TraceyLiv Coaching says we shouldn’t look at it as something to dread, but rather something that we’re lucky to receive. “I am constantly telling my clients that feedback is meant to be a gift, not an emotional release from the giver. Essentially, feedback's primary purpose is to give constructive information to someone so that they can grow, learn, and understand themselves better. It’s not necessarily negative – it can help someone grow and become a better performer in their role.” So next time you step into a meeting, whether as an employee or an employer, try and think of it as an opportunity to grow.

Give The ‘Sandwich’ Feedback Model A Go

A good way to approach feedback is to have a plan in place that’ll be the least stressful for the person receiving it. Tracey suggests trying the ‘sandwich’ feedback model: “First you give one piece of positive feedback, then think of the middle has the 'constructive' feedback part, where you say what can be improved, or what you’re not happy with, and then finish with one piece of positive feedback.” This does several things: it softens the blow of what you’re going to say, makes it easier to hear the more difficult stuff, and lets people see you still approve of their work.

It’s More About Listening Than Talking

The effectiveness of feedback is not only about being a good communicator, but also about how well you absorb what’s being said to you. “If there is a strong element of trust between boss and employee, then candid regular feedback will be natural. If there's little trust, then feedback requires a strong emotional intelligence and ability to speak clearly, and listen,” says Tracey. “The more we close our mouths and listen to the other person, the better we’ll be able to respond and find a way forward. That’s what feedback is all about – finding a way forward. Ensure you leave the meeting with a course of action, even just one action step to take – that can help make change.”

You Can Still Be Kind While Being Firm

Being kind but direct is an important mix. If the person who’s receiving feedback doesn’t feel comfortable with the information you’ve given them, it’s likely that your feedback is going to lead to unproductivity – research by Columbia University neuroscientist Kevin Ochsner found that those who receive feedback only apply it 30% of the time as it is. This means creating an atmosphere where you can be kind but say the things you need to say is crucial. People need to feel safe in your presence, so be thoughtful of your words.

Always Follow Up

Giving feedback doesn’t just stop at that first meeting – it requires a plan of action that you follow up on regularly. “Bosses can let employees know they're taking feedback on board by having a follow up conversation at a later date,” Tracey advises. “It can be at the next staff meeting or 1:1 where they bring up the feedback and let the employee know they're processed it, reflected on it and maybe list 1-2 actions they plan to take to put it on board. Silence is an easy way to let things slip - so bringing feedback out into the open is a way to build trust and let others know you really heard them.”

But Gavin Howarth, managing director at HR and employment law firm Howarths, says you can’t expect miracles to happen overnight – which is why it’s important to follow up and ensure they have a goal to achieve that demonstrates how things have improved. “Not only will this give your employee something to work towards, it’ll also help demonstrate to you that having that difficult conversation paid off. Put a date in the diary, for example, when you and your employee will reconvene and review how many responses they’ve had since introducing the new style and tone to their business development emails. This way, they can show you the positive impact of the changes they’ve made, boosting their morale and ensuring that they’re on track to success.”

Keep Those Feedback Sessions Regular

Karen Emanuel, owner of Key Production Group and winner of the 2018 NatWest Everywoman Award, says she changed her feedback model based on some neuroscientific research she’d found. “Before this, we used to do yearly or twice-yearly reviews with our team, but as the neuroscience proves, when you do this, it puts people under a lot of pressure, and they tend to come in feeling stressed. This actually makes that person very unreceptive to receiving feedback - either good or bad! For instance, if they’ve had a bad day, they’ll come in with an overall negative view of their job.” 

It also means that all the negative things that might have been building up for the last six months have built to breaking point, instead of being address when it first arose. “We’ve built a structure whereby the team leaders have a monthly 1:1 check in with all team members. It means things don’t get out of hand. Then it’s less of a pressurised thing, and more of a check-in: “How did things go, I heard you had an issue with X, can I help in any way?”. We also try to tackle anything we notice is brewing, even before the 1:1 is due: that way, we confront the issue at the time so it doesn’t get out of hand, or breed resentment. We also have a weekly 30 minutes meeting for all 50 of our staff members, and I feedback in those meetings - general company feedback.” 

Use The Right Language And Tone

Giving feedback may feel a little bit awkward, which is why your language and tone needs to be spot on. “If the person you’re speaking to is really angry, you have to make sure you tell them, ‘I hear you, but perhaps let’s arrange a time to discuss this, when you’ve had a bit of time to calm down, so we can talk it through?’ or maybe ask them what could be done to make things go better next time,” Karen advises. “That way, you don’t get that defensiveness – instead they have to think for themselves and consider what would have worked better. Consider saying things like, ‘When I had that problem, this is how I got to the solution - but what do you think?’”
 It’s also important, Karen says to steer clear of any negative language, otherwise nothing will get absorbed. “You don’t want them in 'fight or flight’ mode, you want people to think deeply so they come up with solutions, and they will remember the feedback a lot more.” It’s all about turning that negative feedback into constructive criticism – focus on the future. Gavin gives this example: “Think of the hours lost by your payroll team because Tim in accounts isn’t giving them all the information, they need each month. Instead of just telling Tim that sending incomplete information to payroll is a problem and he needs to stop doing it, explain the implications of the problem and give a clear example of why it’s important for him to rectify what he’s doing, and then suggest a solution: “Tim, I’m aware that payroll have been getting incomplete information from you for the past few weeks. I just wanted to flag that it’s taking them longer to process payroll because the information’s missing, meaning they’re losing time for other tasks. Perhaps it would be useful for you to start gathering the information they need slightly earlier in the month, so you have everything you need when you come to send it to them. What do you think?’ This way you’re avoiding negativity whilst including Tim in helping to find a solution.”

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