Here’s How to Give Feedback at Work (Without Drama)
How to give feedback can be a tricky thing, no matter what stage your career is at, or what your job title is.
This is because the manner in which you do it can greatly impact how the recipient receives it and how much action is ultimately taken.
Here Are 10 Pointers for Constructive Feedback That Work Well
- Avoid beginning with a negative statement.
- Be respectful, even when the evaluation is tough.
- Be specific.
- Be conscious of your body language.
- Discuss behaviour and performance, not personality.
- Don’t catch the listener off guard.
- Feedback must be balanced.
- Focus on a single issue at a time.
- Give feedback in person and pick an appropriate location.
- Hear the other person’s perspective before sharing your assessment.
Do you sometimes have a difficult time giving feedback? It is not uncommon.
Feedback is crucial for any type of relationship in the workplace, whether it be co-workers or a boss. In a work setting, people should be in the loop with reality.
Giving constructive feedback in an honest but professional way can be challenging.
Unfortunately, it can lead to tense conversations and awkward moments.
In the workplace, it is a consequential part of professional progression but might lead to sour relationships.
Why is Feedback So Important at Work?
The workplace functions with the necessity of providing constructive and encouraging feedback.
The goal is to communicate with the person that sits in front of you about the good, bad, and ugly and the impact it has on the entire team and/or company.
It can give a boost to morale to do better and help you take the necessary steps in order to develop your abilities and skills in areas where you may be lacking.
However, many well-meaning people fail to provide relevant and timely feedback.
The process is a critical part of professional development. It can be a useful coaching tool to develop strengths and effectiveness at work.
This is an ongoing process that helps people get better at their jobs, achieve goals, and improve their performance.
Collecting and communicating the results for feedback is a task many are expected to do without proper training, tools, and techniques.
1. Avoid Beginning Your Feedback with a Negative Statement
Why? Because it might just feel like a punch to the gut. The listener to who you are attempting to give feedback might be so knocked off their feet that they can’t take in what you are saying.
The problem can be that the receiver only hears the negative part at first. When you start off on a high note, the listener immediately gets into an open, receptive mindset that makes them more likely to hear and absorb your feedback.
Instead, lead with an uplifting statement that acknowledges a strength.
We are all familiar with the saying, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.“
Sometimes co-workers do not know when they have made a mistake or need to improve their work.
A negative statement like “This is not what I asked for” can come off as harsh and demeaning. If you begin your feedback like this, you are setting yourself and the recipient up for failure.
It’s essential that the listener feels comfortable and being receptive to the feedback you are giving them, and if you start by highlighting how difficult it will be to hear, they may not actually listen to what you are attempting to communicate.
The challenge with opening feedback with negative statements is that it makes people feel attacked, belittled, or stupid.
It puts them on defense and they might shut down or lash out. That’s not the kind of environment you want to create if you are trying to motivate your team to be creative and productive.
Avoid beginning your statement with “You should have” or “could have” or “You would have been better off if…“.
It’s no secret that many of us have a natural inclination toward negative feedback.
And it makes sense that we’re wired to be more sensitive to notice problems than that which is working well.
Start by asking for the person’s input into their own performance.
This helps them experience more control. Negative statements are mostly interpreted as you being judgmental and critical, which can make the person receiving the feedback feel defensive and less likely to accept it in the long run.
All of us are hard-wired for self-preservation and are constantly scanning for threats.
Simply put: Avoid beginning your feedback with a negative statement. Start with the positive or neutral before moving into the rest and be sure to consider how you should phrase things in the most constructive and neutral a way possible.
2. Be Respectful, Even When the Evaluation Is Tough
The idea is that tough feedback should be delivered in a manner that it can be received with dignity and respect.
Think carefully about the words you use. For example, instead of saying “You missed the deadline” you might want to say something like “The deadline was missed“. This may sound trivial, but the word choice makes all the difference in how someone receives your feedback.
Be sure to maintain a respectful tone.
When you are being respectful during feedback, it’s easier for your co-workers and colleagues to trust you.
Respect is a core part of any and all professional interactions. Use kind words. It is crucial to be polite and considerate in your speech.
Your tone matters. Even if you are using well-chosen words, your tone will either add or detract from the impact they have on others.
Remember that tone is more than just what words you use. It’s also how you say them.
So, make sure to take care of how you communicate. Bring positivity into it and avoid sarcasm or condescension.
3. Be Specific with Your Feedback
Vague feedback is like a maze where the walls keep moving. It can be hard for co-workers to understand what’s expected of them.
They might find themselves struggling over how to meet expectations because they just don’t know exactly what those expectations are.
The more information you can give to others, the better. It might seem like it would take longer to lay out your thoughts so specifically, but actually, it will take less time in the long run.
If you do not get specific feedback right away, you will probably have to follow up on a lot of things later on.
When you use specific details to describe a co-worker’s behaviour, it also makes your message much more convincing and memorable.
For instance, instead of just saying “good job” you can say “I loved your presentation! The slides were really professional-looking, and you integrated the major points very effectively. Well done for staying on the message and highlighting the core WIFM”.
This helps colleagues learn what exactly they did well.
If you are giving criticism, explain exactly what caused the challenge and what could have been done differently to avoid it, rather than just saying “you messed up“.
This gives them room to improve, without feeling like their work is just being criticised.
4. Be Conscious of Your Body Language
During communication at work, we often forget about our body language.
We’re so focused on getting the words out of our mouths that we forget to keep our bodies in check.
So, what can we do to be mindful of others during conversations?
First, we can practise using an open stance with our arms uncrossed in front of us and with our hands open. We can also keep eye contact without staring so intensely that the listener gets uncomfortable.
Your body language can make your words feel negative or positive. The message you are giving verbally should be supported by the message you are giving nonverbally.
For example, if you say “I am really happy with the work you did” but your tone sounds bored or frustrated, that becomes a problem.
You cannot expect people to trust what they hear when it doesn’t match up with what they see.
If you are behind a desk when you talk to someone, it can make them feel they are being scolded by their superior (even if they aren’t). You want them to be equally footed.
Here are general tips for body language during your next round of feedback:
- Look others in the eye.
- Do not cross your arms or hunch over. Keep your body language open, positive, and inviting.
- Showing a smile is an easy way to convey that you are meaning well.
- Keep your hands in front of you.
- Be mindful of proximity.
- Try not to cross your legs and arms, which can indicate a defensive posture.
- Lean in a little when listening to the recipient. You want them to know you are really engaged, but not that you are hovering over them and breathing down their neck.
- Nod your head regularly, which shows that you are listening.
5. Discuss Behaviour and Performance, Not Personality
When you are discussing performance or behaviour that needs improvement, you might be tempted to make it a conversation about personality instead.
Don’t focus on a co-worker’s personality or character but rather their behaviour.
It’s essential to keep in mind that personality is not subject to change, while behaviour can be.
To make your feedback as effective and actionable as possible, discuss what the colleague did, what they should do instead, and why it’s imperative.
Focusing on a co-worker’s personality will make them feel like they are being personally attacked.
The last thing anyone wants is to experience that they are not good enough as a person.
If someone has to change their behaviour, it is better to address their actions and how it’s affecting the team than it is to criticise them as a person.
Instead of making statements about personal traits, focus instead on specific actions and behaviours that the person can change.
When you give feedback by focusing on personality (“you are too quiet”), it tends to feel very judgmental and personal. This can cause the receiver to get defensive and shut down, instead of actually taking in your real message.
6. Don’t Catch the Listener Off Guard
Ideally, share feedback during a planned discussion. That way, everyone will have time in order to prepare and think.
If immediate feedback is on the cards (e.g. a safety concern), it is imperative not to take someone by surprise.
Ease them into the conversation by starting with some positive feedback, then transition into what should improve.
Don’t ambush someone during feedback at work.
No matter how urgent your message is, this could trigger a negative emotional response. Attempt to give feedback when you both feel comfortable.
Feedback is best given when a person is ready to receive and process it.
When it’s tough feedback (hard to hear), it is always better to have it coming from a prepared place where both parties are ready to engage with one another – not out of the blue.
Criticism is not something that should happen in the public eye. It will cause humiliation and major rifts between people.
This breeds contempt. People won’t feel secure enough to share ideas or take risks with their work – not exactly what a growing company needs!
Ambush with positive feedback though. You cannot go wrong by catching a co-worker off guard with good and uplifting assessments!
It will give them a tremendous ego boost!
Praise in the open helps build confidence and self-esteem. It lets the colleague know they’re on track and they should continue on this successful path.
It also highlights productive behaviour and best practises for everyone else to hear and see.
7. Feedback Must Be Balanced
Top organisations are striving to build an environment of feedback to encourage better performance.
Whilst giving feedback, don’t be overly critical and only talk about what’s going wrong. Would anyone like to hear all about their shortcomings all the time?
Constant negative evaluations put people on edge, discourage them from taking risks, and lead to feelings of being overly critiqued. This is never a good environment for stimulating innovation.
It is consequential to balance negative feedback with positive feedback.
If you’ve got a colleague who continues to perform well despite setbacks or struggles, let her/him know how much you appreciate the perseverance!
You will find that a balanced approach not only helps co-workers feel less discouraged about shortcomings but more encouraged by what’s going well.
The other side of the coin is also applicable. If only optimistic feedback is given, then that co-worker may become overconfident or believe they are “above” their work. Then there’s the ironic risk of becoming complacent.
8. Focus on a Single Issue at a Time
This helps the individual to better understand what they should do differently. Your critique isn’t getting lost in a sea of other issues.
It’s easy to forget that a recipient can only absorb so much information in one breath. Even if you’re giving them useful particulars about multiple matters at once, it will likely be too much to digest and to make effective changes going forward.
Focusing on numerous points simultaneously will just overwhelm others, who will feel like there’s no way possible to succeed or improve.
This will discourage them from trying anything to better their workflow because they’ll feel like it’s an impossible task.
Tsunami feedback doesn’t work!
Instead, start with one issue you believe is most pressing or crucial to solve, and then support that recommendation with relevant alternatives and examples.
Don’t overwhelm him/her with a bullet list of issues going wrong.
Most people can’t take in numerous pieces of criticism at once, and trying to remember multiple criticisms and suggestions for improvement will just make them self-justifying.
9. Give Feedback in Person and Pick an Appropriate Location
It’s crucial to determine the location and style of delivery. Whenever possible, choose a face-to-face interaction.
Giving feedback in person is always preferable to giving it remotely.
When done in person:
- You can observe facial expressions and body language.
- The recipient can ask questions in real-time and get clarification right away.
- You see their reaction immediately, which helps a lot with gauging the temperature.
- Ensures that there’s little room for miscommunication or misunderstanding.
When at an appropriate location:
- You can communicate clearly and privately.
- There aren’t distractions or interruptions.
- It is free of noise and clutter.
- No one overhears; hence confidentiality is ensured.
10. Hear the Other Person’s Perspective Before Sharing Your Assessment
It’s easy to rush into an advice-giving mode.
But taking that extra step of hearing your co-worker out can go a long way toward building trust – and ultimately getting at a more collaborative solution.
Hear their perspective before you start offering feedback.
Don’t jump straight into your thoughts before understanding the other person’s perspective.
You risk misinterpreting their intentions or missing out on valuable specifics that could help inform your feedback.
It also demonstrates that you respect them as a colleague, which will help build your relationship.