The Fight For Feedback

One of the most emotional issues that any manager, coworker, presenter, or even family member must deal with is giving feedback. On the surface, this may appear to be a rather simple issue, but be assured, it most certainly is not!

To begin with, it is extremely difficult to know how well a person will receive the feedback you intend to give. On the outside, most people appear to readily accept feedback. It is socially and professionally unacceptable to act any other way. The problem is, down deep inside, most people do not respond in a positive way to the feedback they’re given.

So how do you give feedback to a person, and improve performance without crushing his or her spirit? The approach I recommend is a five-step process I’ve been using for decades, and with a little practice, it will do the job for you!

  • Step 1: Ask the person for two areas that he or she felt they did well. It is human nature for those we seek to help to be overly critical of their own actions.  Because of inappropriate past feedback sessions or even to avoid appearing arrogant, a person will almost always focus only on the negatives. By asking for feedback on issues people feel good about, you stand a greater chance of having the person repeat these strengths in the future.  Allowing the person you are working with to go first also eliminates the risk of a someone simply repeating the feedback already received.
  • Step 2: Ask the person for two areas that he or she felt they could improve in. Nothing is gained by allowing a person to ramble on and on.  By asking for two areas, you’re allowing them to take responsibility for those weaker areas, and you can follow up with how they intend to improve in those areas. How would they do things differently if they were to do the task again?
  • Step 3: Tell the person two areas that you identified as strengths. Remember, these are areas of strength. This is not the time to fix what has already been done well. So often, good feedback is wasted when someone says, “This was really good, if only you had…” There will be other opportunities to make something good even better. If this is one of the only two areas that you are identifying as good, leave it at that!
  • Step 4: Tell the person two areas that you identified as weaknesses. Words that work well here are words like “alternatives,” or “suggestions.” Be direct and not apologetic. Try using words such as “I saw” or “I heard.” Avoid feelings and stick to facts. Try not to use words such as “I feel” or “I think.”
  • Step 5: End the session with one last encouraging remark. This allows the person you are working with to leave motivated with a positive, upbeat feeling. This might be something like, “I am really encouraged by the improvementyou are showing,” or “I really think this process is going to become second nature to you soon. Keep up the good work.”

Coaching and giving feedback both have the potential to be highly emotional tasks. They are, nonetheless, critical skills for all who seek to help others. Remember this: Getting feedback, although necessary, often creates a lot of tension; kind of like getting a shot in the arm.  There are a lot of people who can stick a needle in another person’s arm and give a shot. There are, however, a skilled few who can give that same shot creating the same physical pain but, through their people skills and their empathy, can make its acceptance easier. Done properly, you may find that you will be thanked for your empathy and appreciated for the feedback, and that is a sign that you’ve been successful in the feedback being heard!

Related: Not Every Employee Is A Homerun Hitter