The Human Element
Have you ever had someone point out a problem with your appearance? I have. Perhaps it’s a bit of food on my face. If the person avoids causing needless embarrassment and helps me fix the issue, I appreciate it. Sure, I wish I hadn’t gotten sauce on myself to start with, but I’m glad it’s corrected.
Career feedback can be similar. We might find ourselves walking around with the professional equivalent of marinara on our cheek. Sure, it’d be nice if feedback wasn’t necessary. But the reality is, we all need a little help along the way.
The Business Obligation
Not all feedback is good feedback. As managers, it is our responsibility to give good feedback. The company that employs us and the staff we work with are right to expect us to do so.
If our feedback fails to produce the desired outcome, it doesn’t matter how correct it was.
A Humane Approach
Good feedback requires preparation. The following practices can help us prepare, deliver, and follow through on good feedback.
1. Assess yourself
Two points to consider here:
Are you feeling annoyed or irritated? If so, take the time to cool off before proceeding. Reassess when you can more accurately evaluate the situation.
Are you the best person to give this feedback? Even if you’re their manager, the answer isn’t automatically yes. If you’re not the best person, who is?
Ignore the above and you may be the next person getting feedback.
2. Identify your goal
What do you want to accomplish by giving this feedback? Generally the goal will involve reinforcing or correcting a behavior.
3. Know the person
How does this individual prefer to receive feedback? We can provide the most effective feedback when we have an established relationship and know the person’s communication style and preferences.
4. Prepare specific and actionable feedback
Sometimes we mistakenly give feedback so ambiguous that the person is left confused or perhaps even unaware that feedback was given. Most often this is due to lack of preparation.
In contrast, effective feedback is both specific and actionable. With a goal in mind, prepare to clearly discuss what you hope the recipient will do with the information.
“You did great today!”
This is a compliment, not feedback. It is not specific or actionable.
“I don’t like the length of your pinky finger.”
This is not good feedback. It is specific but not actionable. Because it is not actionable it will likely be perceived as an unkind criticism.
“I like how you included examples. It made it easier to understand the point. If you looked for other places to include examples, it would make your writing even better.”
This is good feedback. It is specific and actionable.
5. Deliver it in context
How would you feel if someone told you there was sauce on your face… a week after the fact?
Feedback is more likely to be beneficial when delivered promptly. This doesn’t mean blurting it out at an inopportune time (see points 3 and 6). It does mean that we’ll give feedback while the context is still fresh in their mind and ours.
Delay quickly erodes feedback’s power.
6. Seek permission
At times we have to give feedback even when someone doesn’t want to hear it. Nevertheless, asking “May I give you some feedback?” can help prepare the person for what we’re about to say. In some cases, they may share that they are not in a good mental state to benefit from feedback. Remembering our goal, it will often be best to reschedule at a time better for them.
7. Follow up
When it comes to wiping the sauce from my face, sometimes it takes a bit of back and forth. Did I get it? How about now?
Similarly, our initial feedback will often require follow up to achieve the desired outcome. Our genuine interest in the person’s success is shown by following through with them.