As leaders and managers in organisations, feedback is one of the most important and powerful coaching tools for motivating and engaging people. At the same time feedback is both difficult and challenging to give and receive. This is because if it badly delivered, it may leave people feeling demoralized, unappreciated, and even disrespected.
Acquiring the necessary skills to deliver clear, constructive, and helpful feedback in a completely non-threatening manner should be a key element in any leader’s professional development. This is because for feedback to be effective and render the many benefits that come with it, it needs to be skillfully given.
Our experience of working with people in organisations, has led us to develop an effective approach to feedback that we have termed “Ego-Friendly Feedback”. This approach serves to lower resistance and defensiveness and increases openness and collaboration. The following are eight feedback principles that make our feedback “Ego-Friendly”. These are especially important to learn, adopt and apply if you have a leadership role in your organization.
- Be brave and prepare – Own your feedback as your opinion, observation, or perception rather than refer to other people. So, if you think that a person’s negative attitude is having a demoralizing impact on the rest of the team, tell them what you think and feel rather than approaching it generically by saying that all the team is annoyed by their attitude.
- Target the behaviour, not the person – Address a person’s action or behaviour rather than label the person. So, if a team member has produced a shabby piece of work, tell them that their work fell below the required standard of accuracy and provide examples rather than just tell them that they were careless or negligent.
- Take time to hear their response – Validate the person receiving the feedback by asking them for their opinion, their version of what happened, what caused them to behave the way they did and their reaction to the feedback. Avoid presenting your feedback as set of unquestionable facts that cannot be discussed.
- Be specific with your feedback – Provide specific examples of what you mean and avoid generic statements such as “You always do this” or “You never do that”. Bear in mind that offering people generic statements tends to immediately trigger off an “example of an exception” to your statement in order to shoot it down, refute it and prove you wrong.
- Do not wait for appraisal time – Refer to recent events or occurrences so that the person receiving the feedback can easily relate to the behaviour you are referring to rather than having to rely on your memory of it. This helps the person receiving the feedback to go through their own actions and behaviours while they are still fresh in their mind.
- Describe the impact not the judgement – Describe the behaviour and its consequence on the team, the workplace, the company etc. rather than judge the behaviour as right or wrong, good or bad. So, pointing out that when a team member does not follow procedural timelines, the work process risks falling behind and affecting others is better than just saying that it is wrong to ignore procedures.
- Demonstrate genuine empathy – Express your understanding of the person or situation before offering your feedback. For example, showing a person that you appreciate how pressured they are before asking them to try to be more methodical in their work will help the person feel that you appreciate their reality. As a result, they are more likely to be receptive to your feedback and to cooperate in implementing the necessary changes.
- Avoid the “feedback sandwich” – Traditionally, we were taught to sandwich negative feedback between two bits of positive feedback. This only serves to dilute your message and contaminate both the positive and the negative aspects of the feedback. Instead, offer regular positive and negative feedback depending on what is needed. This means that your team will see you as someone who appreciates effort, positive behaviour and good results while at the same time skillfully giving the necessary constructive negative feedback when needed.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when giving feedback is that they do not plan the conversation. If the feedback is given in frustration and anger or in “raw form”, the only thing the person receiving the feedback will register is the negative emotion and attitude with which the feedback was given. So before giving negative feedback, take the following three steps.
- Take time to calm yourself down.
- Think what you want the person to do differently.
- Prepare the words and tone you are going to use.
Be mindful of your body language and its powerful impact on your message. Make sure that your feedback is useful and helpful to the individual’s development.
Using these practical tools and techniques when giving feedback will make it more likely that individuals are open to what you have to say. Giving skilled feedback is a critical motivational tool for managers and leaders that enables employees to know where they stand with respect to their performance and progress in their role.
It is also just as important that you always remain open to feedback and encourage people to give you candid observations about your skills, behaviours, and leadership practices. This will help you to maintain a high degree of self-awareness and visibility of your challenges. It will also help you to avoid the trap of developing “blind-spots”, a common occurrence in leaders who do not elicit honest feedback and lose touch with how they are impacting the people in their organisation. Finally, encouraging feedback from others is an effective way of fostering a feedback culture where you are open to receiving feedback as well as giving it to others.