The art and practice of giving good feedback

Feedback is of great importance in our professional lives. It can help us get better at what we do and give us the confidence we need to perform and feel engaged. As simple as it might seem, giving feedback is a complex task because of the human dimension associated with it. "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place" once said Nobel Laureate George Bernard Shaw: this also applies to feedback.

Indeed, a lot of managers don’t know how to give effective feedback. Am I giving too much feedback or not enough? Am I being too harsh or too nice? How can I know that the feedback I give is understood and from there how to see concrete impact? These are common questions managers often ask themselves.

In this article, we will explore 5 simple and immediate tips that can help you as a manager in the way you give feedback to your team.

  1. Give feedback as often as possible

    When giving feedback, frequency is key. The more often you give feedback, the more natural it will be for you and your team. Indeed giving feedback only once or twice a year makes it a very formal and dramatic exercise. Research also shows that feedback is more accurate when given more frequently: the repetition will reinforce your message and encourage employees to request more spontaneous feedback. There are many opportunities where you can talk about your direct reports’ work: check-ins, 1:1 meetings or in-the-moment situations (after a meeting for example).                                                                          
  2. Be specific in what you say

    Feedback should be clear and actionable, not vague. Try for example to use simple and direct words and avoid complex sentences that may confuse employees. Because giving feedback is not easy, managers tend to focus too much on their own feelings and intentions and therefore overestimate the extent to which their direct reports understand what they mean. This bias is called the illusion of transparency and often causes misunderstanding. Referring to facts and getting rid of circumlocutions that leave room for interpretation is often a very good start. Then, try to find together with your direct reports a good occasion or concrete situation where they can practice.      
       
  3. Focus on strengths

    Feedback comes in different forms, positive or negative. However, it should always be constructive. A good way to start a feedback is to focus on strengths. Focusing on employees’ areas of expertise can drive engagement and performance. Recent studies found that when managers insist on employee strengths in their feedback, performance usually increases whereas a focus on weakness creates demotivation and decreases performance. Managers should therefore encourage their direct reports to be less concerned by their weaknesses and instead focus on their strengths. This way as a manager you can inspire confidence among your team and leverage on their best qualities.    

  4. Don’t avoid weaknesses

    Many managers sugarcoat their message, in particular when giving negative feedback, for fear of having an unpleasant discussion or hurting employees’ feelings. By avoiding weaknesses or presenting things more positively than they should, managers make it impossible for their direct reports to understand how they can improve and grow. Eventually, this is damaging employees’ development and the company’s performance. If you struggle to give negative feedback, try to avoid words like “poor performance” or “weakness” and instead present these issues as developmental opportunities.                                                    
  5. Don’t just talk, listen

    If you want to see real changes after giving a piece of feedback, you need to make sure that your direct reports understand it and make it their own. First, you can ask them to react to what you just shared with them, whether they agree or not. You can also simply ask them to rephrase. Over time they will probably become more proactive and ask questions when needed. Finally, don’t forget to listen to what your team has to say. If feedback is about sharing with team members what they need to change, listening actively can make them want to change. It makes a big difference.

At Popwork, feedback is something that we take very seriously. It helps us perform as professionals and grow as individuals. Indeed, if you receive no or unclear feedback, why would you bother to improve yourself?

To encourage regular feedback, we don’t have a magic wand. We just do simple things that any company and manager can start doing tomorrow:

  • Check-ins: Each week we all step back individually for 10 minutes to reflect on our recent activity, identify what went well and what did not and define our priorities for the week to come.
  • 1:1 meetings: Based on the information surfaced each week in the check-ins, we sit down for 30 minutes to have individual qualitative discussions and share constructive feedback.
  • Follow-up: At the end of our discussion, we agree on next steps until the next check-in and take into account the feedback we have received.

To learn how Popwork can help you, click here.

Sources : (Harvard Business Review, Science direct, Gallup)