by Paul Kaye
June 13, 2018
Making Your Feedback Heard
Giving feedback is an essential part of developing another person (or team’s) performance. Offering someone feedback gives them an observer’s insight into how they’re doing. Feedback provides a detached and objective perspective that is focused on helping others achieve more for themselves. Despite the benefits of receiving feedback – good feedback – it is still a very delicate process. In fact it can be the management equivalent of bomb disposal; one wrong move and the damage is done. For good!
For many people the idea of receiving feedback causes fear and makes them anxious. The anticipation of what may be said can be very uncomfortable. Most often we find that people resort to their default mode of self-preservation when they hear those dreaded words, “Can I offer you some feedback?” The problem is that when people become defensive ahead of receiving feedback, they are unlikely to hear what is offered to them, even if it is valuable feedback. The coaching moment is simply wasted.
Here are some thoughts on how to deliver feedback that is actually heard:
- Create a safe environment. The first step is always to make sure the person you are providing feedback to feels safe and at ease with you. People are inclined to raise their defenses when presented with feedback, so your primary concern should be to ensure their defenses are down, and stay down. Coaching requires you to build and continually nurture a relationship. Just like in your personal relationships you have to earn the right to provide specific and direct input. It takes some time to get to that point in a relationship. People have to believe that your interests are pure and good intentioned. People need to know that you care about them. They need to believe – no, understand – that you’re offering feedback primarily as a way of helping them achieve what they desire. Once they know you care about their success, make sure the feedback you offer is in support of their personal goals, not just feedback that helps you achieve your goals.
- Positivity rules! It takes 5 positive comments to balance out a single negative comment. As managers and coaches we are desperate to flex our muscles and show off what we know; we get straight to our list – often a long list – of things that they can get better at or need to fix. Feedback that has a bias toward the negative sends a clear message: “You’re not doing a very good job.” Lots of negative feedback de-motivates. Positive feedback, as you’d expect, has the reverse effect and actually motivates. People respond better to positive direction. Always frame your feedback in a positive manner. “Your breaks are too long” could be better delivered: “You are a gifted storyteller, there are a lot of thoughts happening within the breaks that hide that gift from your audience. Try focusing on just one story in each break, and really working to bring it to life. I think you’ll be pleased with how it sounds.” Positivity supports your desire to create a safe environment and a meaningful relationship.
- Don’t wait! Be immediate. There is no time like the present. We learn best with immediacy; when the action or moment is still fresh in our minds. If you observe something that you know will be beneficial for someone to hear, you should share it with them as quickly as you can. As a coach that is your duty. If you wait too long it is hard for people to accurately recall the specifics you are referring back to. You need the action and/or experience to be at the forefront of someone’s mind for them to effectively join the dots between what they did and the feedback you’re providing.
- Be specific. Feedback should never be ambiguous. You need to make sure you are offering something tangible and concrete. Feedback only works if it comes with clarity. For example “I am feeling that sometimes you’re coming off as negative“. This type of feedback raises people’s defenses. Their immediate response is likely to be “No I’m not, I’m not a negative person”. They will also probably feel they are being attacked by you. Their second response is likely to be a challenge “Can you tell me why you think that?” It’s important that you offer the “why” when providing your feedback. The “why” creates the context and meaning around your observation; “When you say x, can you hear how the audience may have interpreted this to be negative?” Without specifics you are offering an opinion, and opinions don’t qualify as feedback.
- Be future-focused. Your feedback needs to be focused on what can be done to improve in the future. It’s easy to offer an observation on something that has already happened, but it doesn’t help someone grow unless you help them understand how to make an improvement next time. It’s not uncommon to hear feedback like “In this break, if you had done x when y happened it would have been better.” What is someone supposed to do with that feedback? The break has already happened, and you’re not likely to repeat it, so it’s just feedback about the past with no relevance to the future. How can they use that to be better tomorrow? If the feedback was “In this break, I heard you do x the effect of that was Y. To avoid that effect in the future when something similar occurs why not try Z” then you’re focused on the future. Offer practical feedback that can be applied in the future instead of worrying about improving what has already been and gone.
- Feedback must be yours. The golden rule of offering feedback is that you must have observed the feedback first hand. Offering feedback is, as we have mentioned, a relational process. It is about you and another working together to help them improve and grow. You compromise that relationship when you offer second hand feedback. You signal to the other person that you have chosen to simply believe and trust the insights offered by someone else. You have no understanding of the context in which the behaviour or action was observed, in fact you only have the experience or perspective of someone else. Don’t erode what you’re building by offering feedback from someone else. If someone offers you feedback, rather than simply relaying it, use it as a guide for yourself and go looking for what they saw. If/when you see the behavior or action for yourself, then and only then is it appropriate to share it. Don’t be the mouthpiece for another person’s feedback. Let them deliver their own observations.
Giving feedback is not an easy thing to do because it involves people. All of us are different, which means that our approach to offering feedback can’t be singular. However the principles that have been outlined here provide a useful roadmap to help you navigate feedback. Start with empathy for – and understanding of – the individual you are providing feedback to. Work to build a relationship where you are not only invited to provide feedback but where it is also welcomed. Be timely and specific with the insights you offer. Help shine a light on how to make improvements for the future. Prove to them you care by making sure all the feedback you offer is from you. These simple principles will hopefully guide you to providing more meaningful feedback to those you work with.
Paul Kaye is Vice President, Product and Talent Development for Rogers in Canada. Paul spends his days working with stations and talent across all formats with a sole focus on helping improve performance and growing the business. Prior to being at Rogers Paul held the role of National Talent Development Director for Newcap Radio and also a Group Programming role in England. Paul is a certified coach and is passionate about helping individuals, teams and organizations reach their greatest potential, which is the fuel behind his other project The Talent Lab. Paul lives in Toronto with his wife, 2 dogs and a cat – life is never quiet!
You can reach Paul at [email protected]