An important communication skill involves giving and receiving feedback, i.e., sharing impressions and reactions of the other person's behavior in order to improve performance. At work everyone needs to receive feedback on performance. You - like everyone you work with - need to know whether or not you:
- Are meeting expectations - both your managers' and your company's.
- Are doing a good job.
- Could do a better job - and, if so, in what way.
- Are performing well enough to gain promotion.
When people do not receive feedback on performance, they have no idea whether they are doing well. As a result they can become confused, disillusioned and often de-motivated. For example, people who are not told that they are doing well soon take the view that it is pointless to work harder because it isn't recognized or there is nothing they do that is good enough, so they stop trying. People who are not told their performance needs to improve will take the view they don't need to work harder or do anything differently. Because no one has said anything they think they are doing well.
Before you can give feedback you must learn to take feedback. Think about the times you received feedback in your past career. Hopefully, most of the feedback you received was constructive, useful and not personal. Occasionally, though, you may have felt that you were on the receiving end of unjustified criticism which attacked you on a personal level.
When receiving feedback that you feel is unjustified keep your temper under control and stand up for yourself. Handle it in the same way you would if you were giving feedback: in a calm, professional manner. When feedback is both unexpected and unjustified, use the following delaying tactics to help give both you and the other person time out to consider the situation:
- Tell the person you are very surprised to hear their comments and ask if you can discuss them later, when you have had a chance to think about their comments.
- Don't jump in and deny the criticism, without considering for a moment, whether or not it might be true. And do not get angry or defensive.
- Don't immediately respond with criticisms of your own.
- Do keep calm, pause and think about what has been said.
- Do choose your words carefully.
- Let the giver know specific things about how you would like his/her reactions.
- Be sure you understand what the giver is trying to say. Because the topic centers on your own behavior, you may be thinking about the meaning of the feedback rather than hearing what was stated.
- Your own feelings may become so involved that you forget to share your reactions to the feedback of the giver. Don't let the person go off not knowing whether or not their feedback has been helpful and how you feel about their comments. The giver needs your reactions about what was helpful to improve his/her ability to give you useful feedback.
If feedback is anticipated it is easier to get yourself ready to receive the information from the giver, but if feedback comes unannounced you are likely unprepared for it. Once you understand how you have felt about receiving feedback in the past and learn to encourage it regularly from your manager, you will be able to provide feedback to your employees in a way that is meaningful to them. The way in which you, as a team leader or a manager, give feedback on performance can make or break a working relationship. If you focus on the negative aspects of performance and offer a large dose of harsh criticism the other person is likely to feel annoyed, upset and de-motivated. If, on the other hand, you fail to make your concerns clear and offer only pleasant and encouraging remarks, the other person will walk away from the meeting believing that they are doing a good job and there is no need for them to change.
Ensure that, when you give feedback on performance, it is effective, constructive and productive. Follow these simple tips:
- Keep it private - make sure that the feedback is given on a one to one basis, without an audience of onlookers.
- Be direct, open and honest.
- Be aware of the impact of your words and body language.
- Listen as well as talk.
- Provide detailed examples of behavior that needs to be changed.
- Express your feeling so that your listener can see how their behavior is impacting you, the department, and the organization.
- Offer clear guidelines for improvement - describe the changes you want.
- Offer feedback as soon as possible after the performance of a task.
- Set a deadline for improvement.
- End the meeting on a positive, upbeat note.
- Monitor the situation and, if necessary, meet again for further discussion.
- Give feedback as a clear report of the facts.
- Give feedback when there is a good chance it can be used helpfully. It may not be helpful if the receiver feels there is currently other work that demands more attention.
Feedback can lead to improvements only when it is about things which can be changed. You should always consider your own reasons for giving feedback. Are you trying to be helpful to the receiver? Or, are you really just getting rid of some of your own feelings or using the occasion to try to get the receiver to do something that would be helpful for you? If you are doing more than trying to help the receiver with feedback, you should share your additional reasons so he/she will understand what you are saying. Giving feedback can sometimes cause the receiver to go away feeling as though he's "not good enough." As the giver don't lecture from some lofty pinnacle of imaginary state of perfection.
If you want someone to change their behavior, then you must offer feedback on performance and explain: what you want them to do differently, why you want them to do it, or how you want it done. Using feedback effectively will ensure higher performance and happier employees.
About the author
Linda Hanson, CMC, is a certified management consultant and author of 10 Steps to Marketing Success. She writes, speaks and consults on marketing, management and customer service issues and can be contacted at www.llhenterprises.com. Sign up for her free newsletter The Superior Performance Report.