“Feedback is the breakfast of champions” – the famous quote by Ken Blanchard epitomises the importance of providing constructive advice to those we work with. We all know that feedback is essential in helping us develop professionally and so reach our career potential. And yet giving feedback to someone can be a pretty daunting thing to do. Likewise when we’re on the receiving end of negative feedback or a differing point of view it’s very easy for us to respond defensively. And that can quickly cause a communication clash and erode working relationships.
Fortunately, there are some easy-to-apply techniques that can help us give and respond to feedback in a way that will deliver positive outcomes for everyone.
STEP 1. Think time & place, purpose & permission
Don’t rush up to someone and start dumping your feedback on to them. Any feedback, no matter how valid or constructively put can cause people to defend their behaviour/actions – especially if colleagues are around or if they’re under a large amount of pressure. Instead, wait for a quiet moment or ask to meet with them at a more suitable time. As part of this request, make sure you state your purpose & ask permission i.e. let them know that you want to give them feedback and ask if this is ok. For example “Gary, I have some thoughts around how you might be able to increase the accuracy of your reports and so reduce re-work. Would you be ok to meet at 4pm tomorrow for about 20 minutes?” (Notice how the purpose is framed positively).
STEP 2. Give positive feedback & empathy
When you begin giving feedback to someone, always start with positives and reinforce what they are doing well in terms of their actions, behaviours, effort and/or attitudes, and if possible empathise with the other person (but make sure it’s genuine!). E.g. “Gary I want to start by letting you know I really appreciate you getting the reports to me on time every week. I know you’re under-resourced at the moment so it’s a great effort.”
STEP 3. Provide specific feedback + suggestions/tools for a win-win outcome.
At this stage you must take ownership for the feedback and be as specific as possible. State what you have seen and when, and let them know the consequences of this e.g. “Gary, over the past 3 months I’ve been counting on average between 5 & 10 data inaccuracies per report, which is causing you heaps of unnecessary re-work and could cause a major client issue if the reports went out unchecked.”
However, it’s no good just highlighting the issue. You need to also provide realistic suggestions/tools that will create the desired actions/behaviours etc. At this stage you might ask why the inaccuracies are occurring as this could provide you both with a solution, or you might proactively offer a solution e.g. asking Gary to double check his figures in future with a colleague. You should also provide a specific target and a time by when this should be reached e.g. “Let’s aim for less than 5 mistakes in the next report, and no mistakes at all with the report after that.”
STEP 4. Reinforce positives & agree next steps
You want to finish the conversation on a positive note, but also with some firm actions that they agree with. As part of this it’s important that you agree a review time, or perhaps a series of review times when progress will be assessed and the feedback loop continued.
How we respond to feedback is just as important as how we provide it.
Here are some ideas to ensure you always come across as open, calm, and in control when receiving feedback from others. HINT: remember that the person who is giving you the feedback almost always wants to help you in some way – and approaching you might have taken real courage! Assuming their intentions are positive, here are some steps to follow:
PAUSE. Even if you disagree with the point they’re making, don’t interrupt, let them finish and treat their point of view with respect.
LISTEN openly & objectively. As the saying goes ‘All communication problems are due to the reason that we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply!’ Try to see things from their perspective and avoid the temptation to get angry, dismissive or defensive. Think win-win! Keep body language positive or neutral. If you do feel negative emotions forming at any stage during the conversation, or if you need time to consider their feedback in depth, ask if the discussion can be postponed.
THANK THEM for taking the time to give you the feedback/opinion. Their time is valuable (as is yours) so acknowledge this.
CLARIFY or seek more information if anything isn’t clear. Ask for examples and instances to help your understanding. Be careful that you don’t make excuses however and always stay solutions-focussed.
SEEK COMMON GROUND and agree with as much as you can before discussing things in detail. During the discussion stay calm, respectful and objective, and remember … feedback is the breakfast of champions.