Everyone has their own feelings on feedback. Some people look at feedback as a gut-wrenching and nerve-wracking experience, while others embrace it as an opportunity to improve. Whether you love it or hate it, most people do agree that it is necessary. Suzanne Rumsey, former HR professional-turned-consultant, offers some interesting thoughts and tips on feedback in her post on the Fistful of Talent blog. Here’s a summary of her major points, intermixed with some of the feedback from readers:
Most of your workforce sees feedback as negative—if it were positive, it would be called “praise.” People don’t always like giving it; people don’t always like receiving it. The only way people get through giving/getting feedback is by saying that it “for their own good.” But in reality, “impact trumps intent – always. If the recipient negatively experiences the feedback, they aren’t going to care a wit about the giver’s intentions.” So make sure your impact is a positive one.
Stick to observations and describe what you saw, heard, or read. For example, you could point out that you saw how Joe made a face at Jane when she proposed an office-wide recycling competition. Being specific and describing what you saw gives realistic feedback in a concrete example that can be changed.
Avoid negatively charged words when describing your co-workers’/bosses’/etc. actions. Words like “ignorant,” “arrogant,” or “lazy” set off emotional responses and can create a defensive response. This means that 1.) The receiver will shut down and will not absorb your feedback, or 2.) The receiver will not know how to correct the behavior (given as an adjective) and will be unwilling to put themselves in a similar situation again. So stick with words that aren’t loaded. Or, just leave out adjectives all together: stick with just the facts, a.k.a. your observations (see above).
Avoid euphemisms: This has to be my favorite tip. Don’t use abstract language when describing their performance (Rumsey uses the example “Sold beyond the close”—what does this mean to someone who has no sales experience?). Instead, use concrete language that provides specific behaviors that can be corrected or changed.
One reader suggested the “3W” method: What: What we’re talking about—a concrete example Why: Why this is important Wait: Be quiet and listen to what they have to say. Wait as long as you need to, even if it is uncomfortable to you. They are already uncomfortable; it’s the least you can do.
Overall, Rumsey and those who commented recommend one underlying theme: concrete examples. The best way to give feedback is to provide specific examples of behavior, minus the flowery language, that can be changed. So the next time you give feedback, hang up your Shakespeare hat; instead, get straight to the point.