Feedback: 6 Tips for Giving It Well

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Nobody likes giving feedback

New bosses dread it. Experienced bosses hate it. That’s what they told me in classes over more than twenty years. That’s a problem.

Feedback is part of your job

If you’re a boss, someone responsible for the performance of a group, feedback is part of your job. If you’re not giving feedback, you’re not doing your job. If you do it rarely or poorly, you aren’t doing your job well. Here are some tips on how to do it well.

Tip 1: Feedback doesn’t happen in isolation

It’s easier to give feedback if you’ve already prepared the way. Touch base a lot. You’ll catch problems when they’re small and easier to solve. People will get used to seeing you.

When you touch base, have conversations. That helps build the relationships that make giving feedback easier and more likely to be heard.

Tip 2: Feedback should be a conversation, not a lecture

There’s no scolding allowed. Think of your feedback session as a conversation about finding facts and seeking improvement.

Tip 3: Feedback should be a gift

When you give someone feedback, it should be a gift. They should leave the conversation thinking about what they will do differently, not how you treated them. If that doesn’t happen, your feedback failed.

Tip 4: Feedback is perishable

In general, the longer you wait to seek improvement, the less likely it will happen. Wait long enough and the behavior you deplore will harden into habit. Feedback delayed usually means benefits denied.

Tip 5: Don’t call it “feedback”

When most people hear the word “feedback” they throw up their defensive shields. Then they won’t hear what you’re saying. Even if you touch base a lot, have lots of conversations, and make feedback a joint problem-solving exercise, the word itself is radioactive.

Tip 6: Master a little technique

Having a process will make you more confident and help you give feedback more effectively. Here are four steps to do, in order.

Describe the issue you want to discuss. Don’t use any adjectives, they imply judgment and you’re not ready for that. Just describe things that are observable, don’t even try to figure out what went on in someone’s head or heart.

Describe what happened because of the actions you just described. This is the reason you’re about to have a conversation. Describing the issue and the reason should take no more than a few seconds.

Wait. Do not say anything until after the other person speaks. Wait as long as necessary, even if you are super-uncomfortable. What you hear next could change your entire perception of the issue.

Have that feedback conversation.

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