In today’s business world, professionals are responsible for providing feedback on a regular basis to partners, employees, contractors, and more.
This feedback may be written or verbal, and the focus of the feedback can range from client interactions to presentation decks, from workplace behavior to white papers. Here are ten tips to consider when providing feedback:
- Set expectations.
It’s hard to hold someone accountable to a standard that has not been set. Deadlines, delivery, content, and goals should all be clearly communicated in writing for both parties to reference. This written standard provides a basis for feedback, and it eliminates awkward conversations about unclear expectations. Have a conversation, clarify your goals, and avoid assumptions.
- Assume the best intentions.
Believe the best about your people. You brought them onto your team or partnered with them for a reason. If there was a misunderstanding or a mistake, assume it was unintentional and use these tips to have a dialogue about how to resolve the issue.
- Put yourself in their shoes.
Have an empathetic attitude and consider how the recipient of your feedback might interpret your words. Many of us find it difficult to distance our work from our worth. Consequently, it’s easy to feel hurt when someone criticizes something we have created, even if we didn’t think we were emotionally invested in it. We can subconsciously think, “My idea, my work, my worth,” and then become defensive when someone suggests that there is room for improvement. Remember that this person might be emotionally invested in their work, and let that understanding guide your tone and your words.
- Consider the methods of communication.
Some projects require detailed, written feedback. Time-sensitive matters might need a prompt email. Certain problems deserve the subtlety of your voice over the phone. Other situations merit face-to-face interaction.
Some people are mortified by face-to-face criticism, fearing that any request to “Come into my office, please,” means they are about to receive bad news. These employees will need more nurturing. Set up the meeting to minimize any tension or hostility. Follow up the meeting with words of affirmation and encouragement.
Finally, remember that your body language is a means of communication. Be sure that what you say and how you say it builds up the listener rather than tearing them down.
- Be mindful of time and place.
Understand when and where you should provide feedback. Some work should receive additional time before providing feedback. If someone submits a 30-page paper for your consideration and you respond in five minutes with a criticism, the writer may wonder if you took the time to fully examine the work. Think about how the immediacy, or tardiness, of your response may impact your employee.
- Keep it professional, not personal.
This tip also seems obvious, but professional feedback requires an understanding of boundaries and empathy, and you must weigh the personality and disposition of each individual. Phrasing and tone of voice can turn a frank comment into a personal attack. Focus on the work, not the individual. Avoid any derogatory comments, even as a joke. Put-downs are unhealthy and inappropriate. If you find it appropriate to employ small talk or levity, keep it positive.
- Be specific.
Generic comments like “It’s good” or “We’re not there yet” don’t provide any direction for what to do next. Be specific about:
- What you like
- What needs improvement
- What can be removed
If possible, provide examples for what you would like to see in the finished product. Refer to your expectations to keep the project on track.
- Ask clarifying questions.
It is possible that you may not understand what your employee was intending to accomplish in a paper, a paragraph, or a presentation slide. Ask them clarifying questions to understand their perspective and intention.
Restate what you heard:
“Can I state it in my own words to see if I understand you properly?”
“What I believe you are saying is…”
“What I heard you say was…”
This is a way of clarifying and making sure the message was clear. It also assures the other person that you are truly paying attention. You will be in a better position once you understand their perspective, and they will appreciate the fact that you took the time to see things from their point of view.
- Set the vision moving forward.
It’s easier to break things than to build them. Some problems are so glaringly obvious (to you!) that it’s tempting to simply point out the problems and say, “Fix it!” However, solutions take a lot of work. Problems often have more than one answer, and solving them often takes a team. As a manager, it’s not your job to do your employee's work, but it is your job to make sure they understand your expectations. Set the vision, keep everyone on track, and remind your people that you are a team on the same journey.
- Follow up.
Ask if your feedback was helpful. Inquire about specific methods of delivering feedback, establish your preferred channels and/or ask what they prefer (for example, “Track Changes” and “Comments” in Microsoft Word, or “Suggestions” and "Comments" in Google Docs).
Ask if certain times of day, or methods or communication, will provide a better environment for feedback. It may also be helpful to include an open-ended, “Is there anything else you’d like to add?”
You are on the same team. The purpose of feedback is to help your team accomplish shared goals, not to elevate one person above another. Step back, take a deep breath, and collaborate with your team to improve your relationships, work culture, and outcomes.
Feedback about Feedback?
Is there any advice about feedback that you have found useful in your own experience?