Giving feedback can be a tricky minefield; you risk offending or giving useless commentary if your points aren’t well communicated and focused. Whether your feedback is formal or informal, there are ten basic principles to always keep in mind.
- Give feedback only when asked to do so or when your offer is accepted. Unwelcome advice is never actually internalized or useful, and can drastically increase animosity in your working relationships.
- Give feedback as soon after the event as possible. Delayed responses are often ineffective and can seem like an attempt to stir things up.
- Focus on the positive. Negative comments should be phrased as opportunities to improve on all the pre-existing good.
- Feedback, especially more negative feedback, needs to be given privately. When given publically, it can seem like an attempt to humiliate or punish individuals, and will elicit defensive and angry responses. Avoid an audience so the discussion can be about the individual receiving the feedback, and not the act itself.
- Feedback needs to be part of your company’s normal communication process. This way, it won’t seem overly critical or like a personal attack, but rather a normal part of your company culture. Use skills such as rapport or mirroring, developing respect and trust with the learner.
- Stay in the ‘here and now’. Don’t bring up old concerns or previous mistakes, unless this is to highlight a pattern of behaviours. Relaying an overwhelming list of mistakes to an individual makes you lose focus and go off message, turning your feedback into a critique of them as a person, and not a harmful work habit.
- Focus on behaviours that can be changed, not personality traits. Never give feedback out of annoyance. Only discuss specific actions that require alteration or improvement and give plenty of examples. Use ‘I’ instead of ‘you’, and discuss how those actions impact you and others.
- When giving negative feedback, suggest alternative actions. Commentary without a plan for change is just criticism.
- Be conscious of your body language. Consider the content of your feedback beforehand, and make sure that your non-verbal messages are not overly aggressive and line up with your verbal messages.
- Do not overload – identify two or three key messages, and restate them at the conclusion of your talk. The more on message and straightforward your advice is, the easier it will be to follow.
Remember that feedback is an inherently positive thing, and it should be portrayed as such in your company culture. If you emphasize the importance of being open to feedback and an eagerness to improve, you will build an office of open, mature, and skilled people.