The power of feedback in enabling positive experiences

Recently I was talking to a manager concerned about a team member’s performance. It was nothing major but it needed to be addressed. The problem was they didn’t know how to say it, so they’d been putting it off.  Sound familiar?

The key question here is: who is benefiting? The manager still has an unresolved issue and the team member has no idea that there is a one; and therefore, they’ve not even been given a chance to fix it. So everyone loses.

If, as leaders, we fail to tell a team member that an issue has been identified and of course, make it clear what the expected performance is instead, we are not helping them. On the contrary, we are robbing them of an opportunity to do something about it so we are failing them.

Ask yourself, if the feedback was about you, would you rather not know? I think most people would prefer a chance to change it, so give them that chance to turn things around.

If you can relate to the above, here are my top-tips on giving feedback to hopefully enable a positive experience for both the manager and team.

  1. Prepare the conversation: if you feel awkward about it plan what you are going to say. Preferably write it down. You don’t have to read from it but any difficult conversations should be well-thought through. Planning means that you can avoid waffling on and making it a bigger deal than it needs to be.
  2. Keep it short: in line with the above, giving feedback doesn’t have to take ages, in fact, one of the top best-selling leadership books, is the ‘One Minute Manager’. The idea being that great leaders are able to give impactful, effective feedback – positive or negative – in just one minute.
  3. Know the difference between ‘Identity vs. Behaviour’: this has made the single most important difference when I give difficult feedback. When giving feedback, have you ever noticed the person becoming very defensive? It’s worth checking the language that you used when saying it. People tend to feel attacked if the feedback starts with ‘you are…’ and therefore relates to them as a person or their identity. Whereas feedback that is specific to a situation or behaviour, such as ‘this morning you said this…’, doesn’t tend to feel as personal, therefore can be taken on-board more easily. As a general rule, if people react emotionally to something you said, you probably scratched their ego which means they are less likely to listen to it. So how could you have said the same thing in behavioural terms in order to avoid the defensive reaction?
  4. Avoid generalisations and sweeping statements: cross off words like always, never, all the time, every time, from your language when giving negative feedback. In line with the above, they make it harder for people to take it on-board. If you say to someone ‘you are always late’, I’m sure they can evidence that it is not always; whereas giving specific examples of actual days they have been late, is a lot harder to dispute. It might seem obvious but try to catch yourself using those generalisations to see the impact without them (this also works wonders for avoiding fights in a relationship!).
  5. Catch people doing something right: finally, another one from the excellent One Minute Manager book, people need to be told when they do something well! Specific, immediate and, most importantly, genuine positive feedback is key to ensuring teams know they are on the right track.

So, what feedback have you been avoiding giving? Remember: you are not helping your team or colleagues by not giving it! When it comes to negative feedback, if you do it well, they may even thank you for it!

Ana Canabarro is a senior operations manager for Mitie Client Services.

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