The F Word – Feedback

The F Word – Feedback:

Giving feedback can be about as popular as opening your email inbox after a 2-week holiday. Receiving it isn’t always that popular either. Responses to the phrase ‘can I just give you some feedback…’ may vary from ‘uh oh, what have I done wrong?’ to ‘here we go again’.

Where does it all go wrong?
Often, the reason that feedback goes wrong, or doesn’t work is that we haven’t been specific enough, or we’ve blurted out an accusation without really considering the impact our words might have e.g. ‘you’re aggressive’ or ‘you’re lazy’. This can cause the person to become defensive or upset, and doesn’t inspire them to change their behaviour. Instead of getting frustrated with the other person for not changing – we need to look at how we deliver the message.

Two simple questions
The only way we can get results is to give specific feedback based on behaviour. Whilst this is common sense its not always common practice. Asking two questions can help us be more specific – ‘what did I see this person do?’ and ‘what did I hear this person say?’ If we can’t answer one or both of those questions we’re not in a good position to even consider giving feedback.

“You’re aggressive” becomes……. “I noticed that you stood really close to me, pointed your finger in my face and raised your voice”

A simple structure
The good news is that there’s a simple 4-step framework that can help us give constructive feedback that actually gets results. Let’s imagine that a colleague frequently talks over you at work and it’s really starting to get you down. Instead of getting upset, ignoring it, or flying off the handle let’s look at how we could handle this situation:

1. Set the scene
This is important so that the feedback doesn’t come as a surprise or they think ‘uh oh’ e.g. ‘I’d like to talk to you about what happens when we’re in meetings together…..

1. Give specifics
The more specific we can be the better as this makes the feedback harder to deny. Report what you’ve observed. e.g. ‘I’ve noticed that on the last 3 occasions that we’ve been in a meeting together you’ve interrupted me and talked over me. It happened at that meeting last
week to discuss budget cuts, on Monday when I was outlining our new client proposal and yesterday when I was presenting our end of month report’.

2. Describe the impact
This is an important step as it provides the bigger picture and helps people see the consequences of their actions e.g. ‘The impact that this has on me is that I get very frustrated and upset that you don’t seem interested in what I have to say. It makes me feel that my views aren’t important’.

3. Discuss what needs to change
Most of us don’t like being told what to do, so it’s important to get the other person’s perspective e.g. ‘how do you think we can prevent this happening again…?’ or ‘how do you suggest we resolve this…’ We may be able to reach a resolution there and then, or both parties may need some time to reflect. Only after we have given the other person an opportunity to share their ideas should we offer our solutions.

Feedback should be a two-way process. It’s important to give the other person the chance to share their thoughts. The 4-step framework can be used to get our thoughts clear and make sure we handle the conversation constructively.

Why bother?
A study involving 19,000 employees by the Corporate Leadership Council found that giving fair and accurate feedback in this way could increase someone’s performance by up to 39%. Imagine your partner doing 39% more housework, or an employee working 39% harder!

Of course, it’s not always about telling people about what they’ve done wrong. Research shows that acknowledging when people have done something well is just as, if not more, important than pointing out their flaws.

When was the last time you gave someone some pure, unadulterated praise? Rather than give a generic ‘well done’ or ‘you did that well…but…’ – use the 4-step process to let someone know what it is that they do so well and chances are you’ll see even more of this behaviour.

Conversely, if we’re on the receiving end of feedback – be sure to ask for specific examples and the impact that your behaviour is having. Without it the feedback is of little value to you.

Go on. Give it a try. It works – at home and at work.

For further information contact or follow me on Twitter for daily tips @beingatyourbest or on Facebook BeingatyourBest for daily tips longer than 140 characters.


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