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The Delicate Art of Giving Feedback

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Giving Feedback

Giving feedback is a crucial component of managing performance. This means regularly giving constructive feedback, not just once a year in a formal performance review. Imagine if an AFL Coach or Captain only spoke once a year with their football players to provide feedback? How useful would that be? How could players identify what they were doing well and not so well in order to change or improve throughout the year?

Giving and receiving feedback is one of the most important communication activities you can engage in with members of your team. Often we associate giving feedback with giving bad news or negative insights, which is not always the case. Feedback can of course be positive and should always be constructive.

When done in the right way and with the right intentions, feedback is the key to performance improvement. Employees have to know what they are doing well and not so well. In order for feedback to be effective and contribute to improved motivation and performance it has to be delivered carefully and frequently.

Giving feedback effectively is a skill. And like all skills, it takes practice to build your confidence and improve. It’s not something you “just know” how to do. The following is a collection of "feedback giving" tips that you can start putting into practice straight away:

  • Focus on the behaviour – not the person. This.Cannot.Be.Emphasized.Enough. Never criticize someone personally. For example, Instead of saying someone is unreliable, speak in terms of observable behaviour: “You’ve been late twice this week.”
  • Prepare your comments beforehand. Use “I” statements and give feedback from your perspective, without applying judgment and labels. For example you might say, "I was angry and hurt when you criticized my report in front of my boss" rather than "You were insensitive yesterday."
  • Assist the employee to see where there actions are unfavourably having an impact on the team, the company or their career
  • Remain focused on the solution and choose language that leads people towards what is wanted
  • Consider your intention before issuing feedback. Are you attempting to improve the situation or are you giving feedback for another reason? Maybe to get something off your own chest? What is your real agenda?
  • Consider the impact of your feedback. Will it contribute to enhanced performance? Will it be received positively or negatively? How might this person react to this feedback?
  • Consider the timing of the feedback. The closer to the event you address the issue, the better. HOWEVER – Consider first: Do you need to calm down before giving this feedback? Are you in the right frame of mind to have a constructive discussion?
  • Consider each situation individually. What response is appropriate for this situation? Should I escalate this? Does this situation require feedback? A warning? Instant dismissal?
  • Stay positive as much as possible
  • Respond, don’t react
  • Be honest, but fair
  • Provide feedback regularly and encourage ongoing dialogue
  • Discuss performance matters in private where possible
  • Change your approach if necessary. Be open to learning
  • Provide suggestions for improvements – apply the GROW Model
  • Consider solutions before giving the feedback
  • Express confidence in the employee’s ability to improve
  • Ensure there is an outcome/action plan. The outcome of the meeting should be an action plan with feedback sessions planned at regular intervals. The employee is more likely to improve with clear expectations, and due dates for review.
  • Follow up and make adjustments as necessary

Examples of good and bad feedback:

Instead of saying

Focus on the specific behaviour

You are unreliable.

There have been a couple of times this week when you have turned up late, Monday and Wednesday.

You are just slack. You still haven’t completed what I asked you to.

I’ve noticed that some of your tasks remain outstanding. As you know, we require all reports submitted by 10am each Monday morning. This hasn’t been happening and it is impacting on our team’s performance rating.

You’re a terrible communicator. You didn’t let anyone know you were not coming in.

Lately there have been occasions when I haven’t been notified that you were not coming in. It is important that I be made aware of any absences so I can plan accordingly.

You are a liar

There have been occasions recently where your comments have not reflected the truth. This has put me and the team in a difficult position.

You’re untrustworthy

I am not confident that I can trust some of the things you say

The importance of tackling those tough conversations

Many managers avoid giving critical feedback for fear of being subjected to a bullying complaint.  This can stem from a lack of confidence or knowledge about how to manage performance and give appropriate feedback. Some may skate around the issue, ignore the problem, or others may pass it to someone from HR. Avoiding tough conversations can create serious consequences, including:

  • Failure of the employee to improve and perform their job to the standard required
  • A perception that the manager is giving their approval and acceptance of the way the employee goes about their work. This can create serious problems down the track if an employee is terminated for continued poor performance and they contest their dismissal on the grounds that they were not informed of their performance deficiencies.
  • Other team members may resent that the underperformance is not addressed, especially when they have to carry the extra load.

So yes, whilst it can be unpleasant if you are ill-prepared tackling tough discussions can be made easier with the right tools and techniques in place.

About the Author:

Melanie Kearsey, an S3 Trainer and Coach provides Leadership training to supervisors and managers who are in positions of directing the performance of others. Melanie gives people the skills to give and receive feedback effectively. 

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