Feedback: How It’s Done

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In continuing our theme of providing feedback, let’s take a look at some basic principles of how to do it more effectively. It’s pretty easy to get up the courage to dole out some developmental feedback when someone screws up, and many folks feel good about delivering positive feedback when they catch someone doing something right. But often it can be difficult to find the right words, the right time, or the right focus.

The right focus. Feedback is a vital tool that must be mastered by all managers and leaders, if they mean to succeed. The problem is that we often jump right into the delivery without first assessing the situation. We need to find the focal point of our feedback; the specific action that prompts us to want to deliver the feedback. That focal point is behavior; it’s the most important key to effective feedback. Before we begin to devise how we will speak with the person in question, we must first identify the specific behavior that is either offending us or pleasing us.
This is not always so easy to do. More often than not, we tend to lump behaviors together to form a characteristic or a personality trait. This inductive reasoning undermines our efforts to get to the root of the issue, which is identifying specific behavior. For example, if you think someone has a bad attitude, try to decipher the individual behaviors that lead you to this judgment. Is it the eye rolling, the slow pace, the chronic lateness, the constant interrupting that are the true culprits? Then speak to those individual actions when delivering your feedback.
The right time. Feedback is a temporal creature. If we wait too long, we miss the opportunity to link behavior to results. And maybe worse, we let this behavior go unchecked, leading to even more mistakes or misdirection. The second most important key to effective feedback is delivering it as soon as possible to the observed behavior. Timeliness ensures that you are nipping bad behaviors in the bud, and that you are encouraging people to continue doing their best while these behaviors are still fresh in their minds.
The right words. The specific words incorporated into the feedback are not so important as the steps used to get your point across. First, you have to ask for permission to give feedback; “May I give you some feedback?” This puts the receiver in the right mood. If they’re not ready for it, they’ll discount it. If they say no, just tell them you’ll ask again later. Now, if they do accept your invitation, state the behavior, then explain the results; “When you roll your eyes in a meeting, I get the sense that you are not interested in other’s opinions.” After that you can ask for corrective actions; “What can you do about that?”
If you’ve gotten that far, it’s a good idea to end on a positive note by expressing your confidence that they will do a better job in the future; “Thanks. I know you’ll do your best!”
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