Providing feedback is essential to growth and being better. Here are some ways to give good feedback.
Not long ago I was driving my daughter to school. I had passed a bicyclist on the way, giving him plenty of room (I thought), but when he caught up to me at the stop light, he paused next to us.
“You’ve got to get better!” he said. “You’re a bad driver!”
And then he took off.
Like everyone else, I think I’m an above-average driver. However, it’s entirely possible that the bicyclist was right, and I’m not as good as I think I am. He didn’t do much to convince me, however, and he didn’t do anything to help me be better.
Shouting feedback at people through a car window is pretty plainly not optimal as a change campaign, but let’s break this down a little more. How do you make sure that when you give someone feedback, you’re helping them, not just shouting at them?
How to Deliver Good Feedback
To begin with, remember that this is feedback – observations associated with suggested actions, intending to achieve a positive change. It’s not an annual performance review. It should be informal with a low-stakes tone. You’re trying to provide feedback in a way that will be welcomed. Ultimately, this means making it as collaborative as possible.
#1 – Plan and manage the setting of the discussion
- Don’t just drop by someone’s desk while they’re in the middle of something and drop a bombshell on them.
- Get out of the heat of the moment, allow plenty of time for discussion, and make sure you have a good place for it. To eliminate distractions, it should be on neutral ground (not your office or workspace) and private.
- It should also be one-on-one. If you think you need someone else there, it’s not informal anymore.
#2 – Feedback should not be anonymous
- As a manager or coach, you should be referencing behavior or work product quality that you have observed yourself.
- It’s a good idea to get feedback from others if it fits the situation, and you don’t have to specify the source of every piece of feedback.
- But saying, “I’ve heard that your work isn’t very good” or “People are saying you don’t do this” is no help at all. It leads to defensiveness and takes away from the collaborative tone.
#3 – Be specific
- Identify the specific, correctable behaviors or potential improvements for which you’re providing feedback.
- Did my bicyclist think I’m a bad driver because I was going too fast, or because of the scrape on my rear bumper? Since he didn’t tell me, I have no way of changing what I do. I’ll just be confused and nervous, second-guessing what I do.
#4 – Make sure the context fits the feedback
- Let’s say my bicyclist observed my driving for twenty seconds and let’s say I did something that annoyed him, like passing him a little too closely. Did I do that because I always do the same thing, and should change what I do, or was it perhaps a one-time thing influenced by circumstances? We all have our bad moments as drivers.
- An isolated glitch at work shouldn’t generate a whole improvement plan.
#5 – Save it for later
- Maybe your feedback is something simple, like learning to save a copy of the big, critical file before editing it. Problem, solution, lesson learned. Something like that might sound so simple that it’s not really feedback. Still, all these rules still apply. If you’re still working on getting that big report out the door, don’t bring up the technical tips. You can have a discussion after the dust settles on how to do better the next time.
#6 – Plan a bigger plan
- Maybe the feedback calls for something more than a single instruction. This turns into coaching, a subject to which whole library shelves are devoted.
- Be prepared to help the person build a plan to learn, apply their new approach, and check in for progress.
#7 – Follow up
- Keep an eye on how the person uses the feedback and let them know that you see the effort they’re making.
- And remember, the ability to absorb and act on feedback is a skill all on its own.
#8 – Remember to listen
- What you hear may help you provide better feedback.
Some Final Tips to Make Your Feedback Impactful
First, turn the situation around. Just as you should be the sort of driver that you’d want to be on the same road with, think of the feedback you plan to give and imagine how you would want to get it yourself.
Second, remember to build a relationship with your team around more than feedback. Talk to them about what they’ve done well, celebrate their successes and progress, and have conversations with them about more than work. Show that you care about them, and they are more likely to care about what you have to say.
Lastly, live your own feedback. Your team will remember your tips, even more, when they see you demonstrating them every day!