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It might not be the most enjoyable part of having a job, but most of us realise feedback is something we must take on board graciously – and act upon to succeed.
What’s often less discussed is the importance of being able to dish out feedback in a constructive way; especially once you reach a leadership position.
And while it may seem a simple concept, it can be anything but.
Deakin University’s Dr Arlene Walker says there’s the risk of feedback being delivered at the wrong time, in the wrong setting, in the wrong tone or even via the wrong medium.
So if you’re a manager, where do you start?
Dr Walker, associate head of Deakin’s School of Psychology, says providing feedback is vital to help your staff continually grow and learn – and help the business hit its goals.
The dangers of not giving appropriate feedback?
‘The biggest thing is that you could lose the person,’ she says. ‘The person walks away not actually knowing what it is they need to do to meet their goals, or to improve or meet the criteria.’
Think giving someone feedback during the annual performance review should do the trick? It won’t, says Dr Walker.
‘Feedback shouldn’t be a one-off thing; feedback should actually be an ongoing process,’ she says.
So if you’re stepping into a new role, establish right from the beginning that you’re going to be giving regular feedback – so it doesn’t come out of the blue.
‘They should know upfront that this is an ongoing process, and it’s not a scary process.’
It’s also critical to choose an appropriate setting.
‘If you’re giving feedback, particularly if it’s around performance, then you’re not doing that in the middle of the office or the tearoom,’ Dr Walker says.
Where you choose to conduct the conversation depends on the type of company you work for, and the particular employee.
However, Dr Walker personally favours a more informal approach. ‘I don’t like a context where you’re sitting across a desk, that’s very formal and can feel very negative.’
Instead, one idea is to grab a coffee together and have a chat outdoors.
If you’re considering trying to send an email to avoid potential awkwardness – don’t.
'Feedback shouldn’t be a one-off thing; feedback should actually be an ongoing process.'
Dr Arlene Walker,
School of Psychology, Deakin University
‘I would never be giving feedback around performance through electronic means – no way. There’s too much opportunity there for miscommunication, misunderstanding and for people to go away feeling really awful about the process, and that’s not what constructive feedback should be about.’
That includes giving feedback through text messages too. If you can only chat to an employee through digital means, the best idea is to set up a video interview so nothing gets miscommunicated.
‘It should be a positive process even if the feedback isn’t positive – the person should still come away feeling OK about it.’
Dr Walker says positive feedback is very different than praise (which also has its place).
Praise is usually subjective – focused on the person and often involving emotions – while constructive feedback is objective and very specific.
‘You’re using some set of criteria. The statements are not person-focused – they’re task focused. And the statements are about how they need to develop their skills or abilities (or what they did well).’
If you’re impressed with someone, Dr Walker says you might say something like: ‘you’ve done a really excellent job with the anxious patient today; you’ve communicated with them in a calm and effective manner that helped to reassure them’.
‘You also did well in communicating with the surgery team about why there was a delay – good work.’
And how to give negative feedback?
‘You may say something like, “You didn’t actually manage your time particularly well today, you know it’s really important that you communicate with your team if you’re running late with the schedule – this is something you really need to try to improve on”.’
If the feedback is sensitive, don’t wing it. Writing down a few dot points beforehand will help you stay focused, Dr Walker says.
After all that, make a specific time to follow-up and check improvements have been made.
Feedback can be most effective when you start by asking the other person what they think of their own performance and engaging them in some self-assessment, Dr Walker says.
‘When you pass it on to them first, it allows you to benchmark where they’re at and where you’re at and see whether you’re on the same page.’
Then together, you could make a summary of the things that are going well, and those that need a little bit more focus.
And don’t forget – if you’re giving it out, you’ve got to be prepared to take it on the chin too.
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