Tips for Successfully Communicating Performance Feedback
The following excerpt on feedback is based on, Consequential Communication in Turbulent Times: A Practical Guide to Leadership.
“How many supervisors like to give performance feedback?” When this question was posed to over 500 leaders in one of the nation’s largest municipal water and power companies, a scant few raised their hands. When asked to explain why, the answers boiled down to three responses: “Because I don’t want to hurt their feelings,” “She’s my friend; I don’t want her to feel bad,” and “I don’t want to deal with the anger.”
One of the sole leaders who indicated he liked to give feedback was sitting in the front row and raised his hand proudly. As he looked around the room, he was stunned to see so few of his fellow leaders raising hands. When asked why he liked to give feedback, his response was:
“I like to know where I stand, so I assume others do, too.”
Immediately following the initial question, these same 500 leaders were asked how many liked to receive feedback. Nearly all raised their hands. They cited the same reason in response: “I like to know where I stand.”
Next, these leaders were asked whether they wanted to hear the bad as well as the good. It was the negative feedback that they avoided giving. Nearly everyone raised their hands. When asked why the comments universally could be distilled to one: “so that I can improve.” When asked whether the employees that reported to them might also want to know the good and the bad, so that they too could improve, the room fell silent.
These utility leaders are not alone.
Most of us want to know where we stand, but few like to give the same feedback to others.
Most of us want to know where we stand, but few like to give the same feedback to others. Can we then easily conclude that it’s not if we give feedback, but rather how we do it?
Think Strategically: What is the Goal of Feedback?
Think about the purpose or goal of giving feedback. It is both to praise for a job well done and to encourage the person to continue performing her or his best work. Or, it’s to help guide the employee to improve. This is the so-called “constructive criticism,” which some think is an oxymoron. If, when giving constructive feedback, we “begin with the end in mind” and are strategic, our goal is to have the receiver of the communication hear us out and to perform differently in the future. Getting the other to listen means we want her or him to be receptive, not defensive, and to really hear what we have to say.
A proven method for accomplishing this aim is the “two-for-one” rule, which means two positives for every “aw shucks,” or negative. How much kinder and more productive to hear “I am glad you turned the memo in on time and followed the format our department adopted. Thank you. I am confused as to the alternatives pursued. Tell me about the selection process. Did you consider others?” This is a great conversation starter that allows the person giving the feedback to steer the conversation into a constructive remark, such as “I would have also looked into ________ and _______.”
Isn’t this form of feedback preferable to stating “what were you thinking?”, “How could you draw that conclusion,” or “this is all wrong.”
Feedback is an important part of the growth of your leaders and team members. Here are a few steps you can take to be more intentional about communicating feedback to your team.
Tips for Giving Feedback: Positive or Negative
- Never be Phony or Fake – You can Smell a Rat a Mile Away: Surely within the course of a week, at least one individual will have done something for the leader, for which she can show gratitude – by thanking him or her – and someone else will have gone above and beyond or simply completed a task exceptionally well, for which the leader can offer praise.
- Praise in Public, Offer Constructive Criticism in Private: With minor exceptions, most of us like to be praised, thanked or shown gratitude in public. Conversely, none of us likes to be chewed out in public.
- When Giving Constructive Criticism, Follow the Two-for-One Rule: Two Positives for Every Negative: Why? To ensure the person will hear what is being said, which is critical when mistakes or underperformance need to be addressed.
- If One Violates Any of the Tips, Apologize: None of us is perfect, particularly when it comes to Giving Feedback; when one goofs, acknowledge it and apologize.
To read more about this and other vital leadership tips, purchase this Amazon #1 bestseller here.