Working Better Together – 5.Feedback

A crucial part of working better together is being able to give and receive feedback. Whether it’s because something has been done incorrectly or because someone’s behaviour isn’t in line with ‘how we do things round here’ there are times, whether we are a people leader or not, that would benefit from some feedback being shared.

In my experience, people often shy away from this. Why? Because on the most part, people don’t like confrontation and they see giving feedback as having the potential to turn into a confrontational conversation. And they’re right. A few unhelpful words or a motivation that isn’t serving the outcome can derail things. So what are the do’s and don’ts of delivering effective feedback?

I’ll come to that in a minute.

First, the psychology. We’re programmed to hear the negative. Some say it’s from our primal days of survival, to be aware of the things that threaten us. More recent scientific research indicates that we weigh negative information to positive information on a ratio of 5:1. This means that we would need 5 positive pieces of feedback to equal 1 negative piece. It also means that we place a greater impact on the loss of something that we do on the finding of an equivalent thing. E.g. The feeling (of upset/anger/frustration) in losing a £10 note would be felt more strongly than the feeling (of joy, elation, happiness) in finding a £10 note.

An often-quoted phrase from Maya Angelou is that people will forget what you say, they will forget what you do but they will never forget how you made them feel. (I’m paraphrasing here). This is sound advice when it comes to giving feedback. People will feel the impact of the conversation long after it has ended. They may be bruised. They may be inspired. They may be reflective. But they will be something.

Before you begin to plan what you’re going to say, when you’re going to say it and where you’re going to deliver the message stop and ask yourself

  1. WHY you are giving this feedback? If there is even an ounce of frustration, anger, annoyance or dissatisfaction resonating with you, now is not the time to be doing this. Your feedback will be biased with a personal need to address or redress the situation (or the person!) and will not be focussed on the needs of the other person. Feedback is not synonymous with discipline or performance management – or at least it shouldn’t be. Feedback is  an opportunity for the recipient to reflect on what has happened, how they contributed to that outcome and what they may (or may not) want to do differently in the future.
  2. Will the recipient of the feedback have sufficient clarity from the message that they will be able to act on it, if they choose to? Because we sometimes try to diffuse a reaction before it’s happened, we can become a little convoluted in the delivery of the message, adding in lots of things that the person does really well, or telling the other person about the time that you did the same thing, or being so vague that neither party really knows what’s being said. Be specific yet kind. Considerate and concise. And when you’ve said what you want to say, stop talking! Let the other person take time to process what they’ve just heard and ask questions if they want to.

When it comes to delivering feedback, there’s plenty of material out there but really, it depends on the situation and the relationship between the people involved. If the recipient trusts and respects the person delivering the feedback they are far more likely to take notice and act upon it than if they don’t.

As a general rule, when delivering feedback, be

  1. Discrete – in a private area away from others is great but avoid routine. You don’t want people thinking that if they’re meeting you in room 5 that they must be about to get some feedback.
  2. Timely – in the moment can be great, so can taking a bit of time to reflect on the situation. Just don’t wait until your next 121 or performance review – too much time will have passed for it to be meaningful or for a change in behaviour to be evidenced.
  3. Selfless – this is all about them. Not you. If you are doing this to aid your own agenda then wait until that motivation has passed and then see if the feedback is still valuable to the other person.

Receiving feedback can also be difficult but it is a great way of improving our self-awareness and personal development. If you can,

Do – Thank the person for sharing their feedback with you, especially if they deliver it well (it’s not easy to do!)

Do – Ask questions to clarify your understanding

Don’t – become defensive, argumentative or try to justify what you have done

Don’t – launch into feedback of your own on the person delivering the message

Do – take time to think about what has been said

Do – think about what the feedback means to you – do you agree with it? Do you accept it?

Do – think about any parts in particular that smart – why is that? What nerve have they touched?

Do – decide what you are going to do about it. You may choose not to act on it and that’s fine. You may choose to make a conscious effort to do things differently. Either way, it can be helpful to share what you decide with others (including the person who gave you the feedback).

Don’t sweat it. Do something different. Or don’t. But make it a conscious choice either way.

Having a culture where feedback is shared openly, from a place of genuinely wanting to improve the performance of the team and help people do their best work is a crucial component for high performing teams. Contracting up front around ‘how we do things around here’ including how and when feedback is shared gives permission to each team member to be accountable and helps everyone in Working Better Together.