6 Ways to Give Better Feedback

6 Ways to Give Better Feedback

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Feedback is an important task for true leaders. But many leaders seem to cringe at the thought of giving feedback to their team members in fear that they may take the advice too personally, or get their feelings hurt.

However, if you follow these six pieces of advice, you can deliver better feedback that will grow fruitful results.

1. Supply Specific Information

Authors John Hattie and Helen Timperley found in their 2007 published work “The Power of Feedback” that criticism, and even praise, isn’t as impactful as pointing out the specific information regarding how a learner is performing a task. In other words, feedback is more valuable and effective when it shares information on what the individual has been doing correctly and what they’re doing differently now that has been beneficial.

So instead of telling someone “Great job!,” be more specific like, “Your report on the ten most important KPIs was extremely valuable to this company. Could you come-up with five more?”

2. Create Safety

Kevin Ochsner, a Columbia University neuroscientist, claims that individuals who receive feedback actually only apply it around 30% of the time. The reason? People may feel too uncomfortable, which means that the feedback is unproductive, not even heard, or even more likely, the employee has been criticized so frequently that they had cast up a wall to protect themselves from your severe censure, or continual faultfinding.

Speaker and best-selling author Scott Halford says in Entrepreneur, “If you don't have the kind of buddy relationship with a colleague or employee that allows you to say virtually anything to each other, then I suggest you add civility and safety into your feedback approach.” Halford adds, “Don't be mean-spirited. Your feedback usually won't be productive if it's focused on making the other person feel bad or make them look foolish in front of peers.”

When creating safety, start by creating opportunities that can build their confidence and trust in you. And, make sure that it’s one-on-one. Nothing can destroy that trust like criticizing someone in public.

3. The 3x3 Rule

“Psychologists Dr. John Gottman, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson and organizational psychologist Dr. Marcial Losada have proven that a ratio of at least 3 positives to 1 negative statements is necessary to create a successful relationship in our personal and business lives,” says Richard Riche on LinkedIn.

Leadership consultant and author Bert Decker, however, takes this a step further by creating the 3x3 Rule. This rule basically means that when giving feedback you identify three positives and three areas that need improvement. This method provides balanced feedback that can guide the person when making corrections.

4. Plussing

How has a company like Pixar achieved so much critical and commercial success? One important factor is that they developed their own feedback system. Peter Sims, author of “Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge From Small Discoveries,” says that this system is known as ‘plussing.’ Sims adds that the point is to “build and improve on ideas without using judgmental language.”

Here’s an example of this system and how it was used during the development of “Toy Story 3.”

“Instead of criticizing the sketch or saying ‘no,’ the director will build on the starting point by saying something like, ‘I like Woody’s eyes, and what if his eyes rolled left?”

As opposed to saying words like ‘but,’ use ‘and’ and ‘what if’ when making suggestions. This will keep the creative juices following.

Additionally, language does matter when giving feedback. Carole Robin writes in a post for the Stanford School of Business;

Avoid attributions or labels such as “you are insensitive.” Do not make up stories about why they act in a certain way, such as “you don’t care.” Use “I” language instead of “You” language, but remember that saying “I feel that you are insensitive” and “I feel that you don’t care” is cheating.

5. Develop Concrete Suggestions to Meet the Goal

As Robin writes, “The purpose of constructive feedback is to encourage the other to move into a problem-solving conversation with you, not to ‘change’ for you.” To ultimately meet his goal, the Daily Muse suggests you, “Give a small number of actionable suggestions (ideally only one or two) that the other person can take in the future, to change this behavior. They will appreciate that you’re giving them the first step to improving the situation.”

Consider dropping language in your feedback that repeats the tasks the individual is already doing. By reiterating their current tasks, it appears as if you are criticizing their entire job, or saying they aren't doing the job in the first place.

6. Encourage a Feedback Culture

“Most organizations start by teaching managers how to give feedback effectively. The logic follows that if they have the skill, then they’ll go around giving all sorts of helpful feedback to readily receptive employees who will use it to improve and pay it forward in a never-ending positive spiral of development and enrichment,” writes Ben Olds. The problem? “It doesn’t work.”

Olds says the main reason this doesn't work is because even “the most skilled provider in the world will have a miserable conversation with someone who doesn’t want feedback, and/or doesn’t know how to receive it.” Because of this, you should create a feedback culture by;

  • Educating team members “on the value of constructive feedback, and seek out and destroy habits that erode psychological safety.”
  • Teaching employees how to hear feedback without getting defensive.
  • Informing leaders on how to properly deliver feedback.
  • Encourage leaders to give more feedback.

Generally, even the CEO at the top needs an education on how to give and receive constructive feedback. Did you notice the word, "receive." It is difficult for an employee to continually hear the top brass doling out the "helpful hints," section of the day (especially if the top person has never done this particular job, and has no idea what it takes to accomplish it).

There are also many ways that you as a business owner can get feedback. One personal way that I do this is using Desk.com’s helpdesk software. This helps my customers leave unfiltered feedback or request help where they need it the most. It’s helped me become a better boss, build a better company and help my customers more.

If you have created a safe environment of honest give and take, and taught the correct manner in which to have a respectful conversation in the work place -- it should not be difficult to create a better feedback culture in the workplace.

About the Author

John Rampton is an entrepreneur, investor, online marketing guru and startup enthusiast. He is founder of the online payments company Due.

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