Feedback is a phenomena that has reached new heights with the emergence and advance of social media. Information travels incredibly fast and many find themselves trapped unaware or fall victim to negative feedback. Often complaints disguised as "feedback" are negative and the object/subject are often unprepared and the immediate reaction is to go into defensive mode when they are startled into awareness. It is my observation that 9 out of 10 times it is negative feedback that gets an immediate reaction - the worse the feedback, the quicker the response.
Feedback is a critical element on improvement. Unfortunately, most organizations don't plan on how to respond to feedback. It is far too often in reactive mode and far less in proactive mode. I have written about Social Media feedback already but this time how it applies in business.
There is a time and place for everything. Feedback is a crucial to any one person, team or organizations success. In fact, feedback is encouraged in many situations:
- Personnel reviews
- Customer reviews
- Feedback forms
- Review panels
- Interactive communications
Obviously, there are three types of feedback:
- Positive feedback is pleasant, complimentary, and makes a person or organization proud of something, feel good about themselves.
- Negative feedback is rarely welcome, usually takes the recipient off guard, and the target tends to immediately go on the defensive
- Constructive feedback is when the intent is encouraged for improvement, aid learning and enhance development.
Helpful feedback is when you give (or receive) encouragement and ideas on how to make changes to improve performance, enhance results.
The least helpful feedback you can give someone (or receive yourself) is vague encouragement ("You're on the right track, keep at it, 'Good start! Keep at it!") Mind you, blistering criticism on the other hand causes the mighty to be shaken especially when caught unawares ('I hated it' You suck!')
The most misleading feedback is none at all! It evades the subject or communicates to the prospective recipient that there is nothing wrong. Why you may want to reconsider sidestepping feedback:
- It gives a false send of security
- No news is good news is not always true
- We've been raised to "if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all"
- We think it is poor manners to give feedback when not asked for
- We are not correcting a behaviour that is disruptive or unproductive
Every ONE and every ORGANIZATION improves with feedback. You can call it whatever you'd like:
There is a very effective method to feedback that I learned while at my Toastmasters International professional group. In fact, we would evaluate and give feedback based on our feedback, fancy that!
The basic rule was use a sandwich:
- Say something positive that will make the person receptive
- Give the feedback
- Say something positive again
The best managers, leaders or organizations are masters in the art of feedback. We're so pleased at the intro and closing, we don't take the feedback quite as if it is a personal attack.
A very wise elderly lady I know perfected it. She starts out with something along this line "this is just some friendly advice that you may want to consider" (ears and mind opens) .. you may want to consider diversifying your savings strategy (I'm not hearing I don't have a strategy, or I have a poor strategy or I have bad habits) ... you may want to consider paying off your mortgage or buying an investment property (or whatever the case may be). By doing this myself, I have learned from own mistakes ... (she's not perfect either) I discovered that you shouldn't spend all your hard earned money on .. insert this or that .... You may find a better idea of solving this as I know you're an avid reader and researcher ... much better with your computer skills than I am (awwww, I'm warmed up now) to know how important saving money is.
She isn't accusing me of being a wasteful spender or criticizing me for not preparing for retirement. She's enveloping her own wisdom and experience in a way that is framed in such a way I will pay attention, want to consider adopting it and will certainly feel good about it.
Another example would be like: "Jeannette, your enthusiasm and energy really inspires me to pay attention to what you have to say. Sometimes it is difficult to catch all the great substance by the style in your delivery. I often feel like you think I'm not getting it or paying attention. It comes across as though you are telling me without asking my opinion. If you would slow down a tad, I can write notes or ask questions to absorb all your great ideas."
Surprisingly, this is a lot harder to do than it sounds. We can fall into the trap of sugar coating it too much that our main point can be lost. When done in conversation, effectively using eye contact and pausing between points allows the listener to absorb what is being said.
The next time, you are in a situation where you have to artfully provide feedback, think about this approach. Once you are in the habit of doing so, your ideas or feedback may take you much farther than you dreamed it would.
You can avoid a lot of heartache, heat and resistance try to follow these hints:
- AVOID attacking the person or making them feel as though they are being attacked
- AVOID using sarcasm which is a passive aggressive way of being nasty
- AVOID underscoring a past mistake to make emphasis (they will feel like they can never do anything right and put them on the defensive immediately
- AVOID communicating in a tone or speed that communicates anger (everyone knows a hissing cat is angry merely by the sound of it)
- NEVER give feedback in front of others, regardless of your seniority. You will look bad and weak ... never mind HR (human resources) could end up at your door instead! Take the person aside and address the situation privately.
- WATCH your body language (don't point a finger, shake your head as a no when you are wanting to convey a yes)
- SMILE when you are opening with the positive statement, be serious when you are framing the main constructive point, and then look directly after you've finished the final positive framework
- AVOID being too concise or brief: giving feedback is not something that should be done in haste
- PLAN your feedback: write down, rehearse or play over in your mind, visualize how you are going to deliver your sandwich.
- AVOID joining the positive with the meat by using "but", "however"
- SCHEDULE the time and disallow interruptions of any kind. Respectfully reschedule if you know there is a pressing matter that may require interruptions.
- GOING to a company cafeteria or coffee shop does create a personalized receptive environment.
- TURN OFF all communications devices as they fall under interruption and distractions.
- END with a plan: how are you going to mutually review that improvement has been made? How are either going to track, monitor changes?
- FOLLOW UP: With something in writing to recap what was discussed and decided will be used to measure improvement; the recipient can do this rather than waiting for the communicating to demonstrate that they embrace it and are prepared to heed the advice.
- FOLLOW UP: Schedule a review in a week, month, or three months where both parties can collaborate, exchange thoughts on where, if, when improvements have been made. If at a later date, you or your company decide that the feedback fell on deaf ears and the effort was not rewarded and you want to let the person go, you will be thankful that you have documented your efforts to help the person, when, how often, what steps were involved.
BE TACTFUL In other words, instead of coming straight out and saying "our meetings are too long". You may have a valid point but you don't want to stick your neck in a noose by appearing as though you are criticizing a manager, who you owe respect to. Think of a way that you could say it to a manager in such a way that it will be taken as valuable, helpful as the person may be unaware. If you think meetings are too long, think about why you think they're too long? Is it because you need to get home to get your kids to their soccer game? Far, far too often someone within group dynamics takes on the role of being the spokesperson, thinking that they should speak on behalf of the group in a tone of bravado that they mistakenly think the team appreciates their confidence and ability to speak up. More often they are misguided and their team mates are horrified by the thought that the manager or leader thinks that they support such outspokenness.
I had a leader who asked that we do our best to provide a solution prior to just spewing out a problem. It was wise. Wouldn't this sound better: "There is a lot of great information that is covered during our meetings. At times, they go longer than scheduled. Perhaps we can have them over lunch and kill two birds with one stone or have an Agenda posted/sent out beforehand so that we can all stay on topic and on task." That works rather well when the team all gets on board and collaborates on a solution that everyone can agree and compromise on to fix the problem. i.e. If you come up with the idea of lunch, everyone agrees to brown bag it, take turns to pick up the sandwiches or make arrangements to order in pizza.
Surprisingly, this is a lot harder to do than it sounds. We can fall into the trap of sugar coating it too much that our main point can be lost. When done in conversation, effectively using eye contact and pausing between points to encourage the listener to absorb what is being said. You may have noticed, I like to use the word "perhaps" because I have found it softens the messages and conveys that it is just a suggestion. How I do it, where I do, how I follow up conveys the seriousness or willingness to mentor/help with changes suggested.
The next time, you are in a situation where you have to provide feedback, think about these pointers. If you sense or experience resistance, it may not mean that your ideas or feedback are unnecessary. It just may mean that you need to deliver them a little differently. Once you are in the habit of sandwiching your feedback, your ideas or delivery may take you much farther than you dreamed they would!
Let me know if you have tried any of these tips and if they worked.
"There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve performance the next time."