7 tips for giving feedback in the workplace (video lesson included)

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed time and time again as an executive coach, it’s that most people feel uncomfortable and a little squirmy about giving feedback, especially when it’s constructive.

I get it. You might not know how, or you don’t know how the person will react. And let’s be honest, you don’t feel like you’re good at handling it if they become emotional. Maybe you just don’t have time.

But the irony is that whenever I ask people if they like to receive feedback on how they’re doing in their work, I’ve never heard anyone say “nope, I’d rather do my work in a vacuum. No siree, no feedback for me thanks.”

If you’re still lacking the confidence to give feedback, here are three tips worth remembering:

  1. Focus first on building trust with that person. We’re more likely to appreciate feedback from someone we trust and respect.
  2. Don’t be stingy with giving (specific) positive feedback. People need to know that they’re valued and when their contributions are positive. Doing this often will allow you to give people constructive feedback without sounding overly critical.
  3. Remember, people can’t change any unhelpful behaviour when they’re unaware of it and the impact its having on others and themselves. People usually want to know if they’re getting in the way of being effective – either when it comes to a particular task, or a working relationship.

It’s because of these feedback challenges that in my online leadership programme for emerging leaders, The Leader’s Map, I dedicate an entire module to the topic of giving and receiving feedback.

Here’s a snippet from one of the lessons in the module. It’s a video of me outlining a nifty little feedback model called the SBI model (which stands for situation – behaviour – impact). You can find the video lesson here!

Along with that, here are 7 key points to remember when giving feedback:

1. Start with the right intention

  • Don’t underestimate the power of positive feedback. Shine a light on what you want to see grow in those you lead, whether it’s task related or to do with their behaviour.
  • Start with the heart. In other words, treat feedback as a gift and deliver it as such. Always remember the intention of it is to help the other person, not hurt them.
  • Give the receiver a recommendation on what to do rather than what not to do. Emphasising what not to do is less helpful, as it doesn’t give the receiver any ideas for alternative behaviour.

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and ask, how would you want to receive this feedback? This may help you guide your approach to the feedback.

2. Consider location
Constructive feedback should be given in private. People may appreciate public positive feedback, but always be sure they’re comfortable with it. Some people would rather have hot pokers shoved in their eyes than be praised in front of a group. Others will absolutely love public recognition. So always ask when you first start leading a person how they like to receive feedback.

3. Make it timely
Wait until you are in control of your emotions before you give the other person feedback (if you’re upset or angry by their behaviour). If you don’t, they’ll just receive your emotion, not the message. But don’t wait TOO long so that it becomes irrelevant or too far in the past to be useful.

4. It’s a conversation

  • Good feedback is not a monologue or a sermon! People don’t want to be lectured at, so pause regularly and check for their response and perspective to what you’re saying. This can be difficult admittedly, but active listening will always lead to better outcomes.
  • Get their response. “What do you think?” “What’s your perspective?” “What’s your response?”  These are useful questions to stop and ask when offering feedback.
  • Avoid the approach of ‘this is how it is for me, take it or leave it.’ The receiver should also play a part in identifying challenges and suggesting what they might do differently.

5. Preparation is key
Let’s say someone does something that bugs you. Rather than rush ahead and give them feedback straight away, stop and reflect first. That way, you’re more likely to build the relationship, rather than destroy it through responding in the heat of the moment. Always remember to:

  • Acknowledge your own negative response to the other’s behaviour.
  • Consider the messages you’re sending to them, or even yourself, about their behaviour.
  • Do not fall into the trap of always assuming bad intentions. What might be the positive intent behind that person’s behaviour or actions?

6. Have compassion as your starting point

For a behaviour to stick, the 28-day rule pertains. Giving consistent and specific feedback when you see positive changes from people will further reinforce these changes.

7. Ensure you are descriptive and behavioural, rather than personal
Focus on what you have seen or heard directly. Avoid commenting on hearsay.

So if you’re feeling a bit nervous about giving feedback to peers or direct reports (or even your boss), follow these tips and just get started. You can’t become good at something if you never do it. Give up the need to get it done perfectly and remember, the best feedback conversations are just that, a conversation.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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