3 killers of effective feedback

In the workplace, one of the essential management tools to develop an individual is the effective use of feedback.  Feedback is a great tool to help individuals identify and take steps to improve their skills and competencies.  As individuals we know that we need to continuously improve, develop skills and competencies for us to be effective in not just our current role but also future roles.  Therefore, if feedback is one of the essential tools, why is it that people shun it or view feedback through a negative perspective?

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There are many reasons as to why feedback is viewed negatively, these are just some of the top 3:

  1. Bad past experiences.  You had received feedback, which was negative, was vague and left you feeling confused and probably hurt.  The worse part of it, you had no idea what to do about it.  You did not know specifically what areas to work on and there was no assistance given to improve. Some bad experiences could be a result of feedback which was emotionally driven rather than objective and constructive in nature.
  2. Comments or opinions disguised as feedback.  Often, we are confused between hearing opinions or comments from people and placing those into the feedback category.  Feedback is distinctly different from opinions or thoughts or comments.  Opinions or thoughts are just that.  It is someone’s perspective and interpretation of an action or situation.  It is their version of the “story” vs. fact.
  3. Superficial feedback.  Feedback that only gives you high level statements that are not helpful to get to the heart of the issue for real action items and development to take place.  A common example of a superficial feedback is “Good work!” or “You need to improve in your communication skills.”  What does it really mean?  If the feedback is vague or too generic, it is hard to know how to put the right development plan in place.

Regardless of the above reasons, feedback is a skill that is learned.  Essentially there are 4 key elements to effective feedback, and they are:

  1. Specific:  Feedback needs to be specific and based on an observable action or behaviour.  Specificity helps to zoom into the action or behaviour that needs to be reinforced or rectified.  It is impossible to develop a competency without breaking it down to specific areas.
  2. Impact:  Succinctly explain what the action or behaviour made you think or feel.  what was the implication or impact to me?  This will help put the specific observable action into your perspective.  You can only speak for yourself so ensure that it is your perspective of the impact and not others.
  3. Acknowledgement:  This portion is to gain understanding as to whether what you have observed is acknowledged or identifiable by the person.  Once we can agree on the specific area, then we are able to move to the final step.  Acknowledgement and agreement is an essential step as this helps both the giver and the receiver of the feedback to understand, discuss and take the next steps.
  4. Joint Action:  This is key to enabling any feedback to take concrete steps to improvement or development.  It is a joint action plan as no one can improve on their own.  As a manager, you have the responsibility to help your direct reports to improve, develop and support their development plans.  One of the most impactful activity any manager can perform is to support your team in their efforts to improve.

Let us put this into a simple scenario. 

Manager:  I noticed that during your presentation you were moving around the stage a fair bit which was distracting to me and made feel nervous for you.  What do you think? 

Direct Report:  Yeah you are right, I was nervous and so pacing around the stage was my way of dealing with it.  I am not sure what I can do to manage my nerves.

Manager:  thank you for openly sharing that with me.  Let us think about some tactics that we could use to help you manage that and put a plan in place.

As you can see in the simple example above, it is rather easy to put 4 elements into any conversation but it will take preparation on the part of the giver of the feedback to be clear and succinct with the intention of enabling the feedback to its desired outcome.  The giver of the feedback must be willing to provide the support and help required which is the key to unlocking the effectiveness of any feedback.

To help you overcome the 3 killers of effective feedback, you will need to:

  1. Change your perspective around feedback.  No matter what your previous experiences are, the first step to being a better giver and receiver of feedback is to know that feedback is.  The intent or desired outcome of any feedback is to either reinforce or rectify a specific behaviour.  The process to achieving that outcome requires clarity and a support structure as an enabler.
  2. Learn what elements are required for effective feedback.  Nothing is preventing you from learning how to be an effective feedback giver and receiver.  There are countless books, papers, audiobooks, podcasts and so on where you learn and broaden your knowledge around not just this subject but any subject.
  3. Practice the key elements of effective feedback.  Just like any other skill, it needs to be practiced.  Its uncomfortable and unnatural at the start but you will over time figure out your own style and will become a natural part of your management toolkit.

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”  Ken Blanchard.  Just like the importance of breakfast, feedback is the key to any growth journey.

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