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A very basic requirement for effective feedback is that the recipient is listening and engaged in the conversation. Otherwise, what’s the point? However, too often, the feedback we give and receive is ineffectual at best, and completely counterproductive at worst.
Of course, the effectiveness of good feedback is largely dependent on the recipient’s willingness to listen. Regardless, there are things you can do to encourage openness on the part of the receiver. Here are 5 ideas for how to give feedback in a way that creates a positive outcome.
#1. Coach rather than preach. Most of us cannot help but tune out when we are spoken to, rather than spoken with. Good feedback involves open back-and-forth conversation that is focused on setting goals, creating forward action and managing change. To do that, it’s important to seek understanding through open, honest dialogue that is free of any trace of condescension. If you want your feedback to have an impact, stay off your soapbox and out of the pulpit.
#2. Ask for permission. No matter what your title or position in relation to the person to whom you are giving feedback, you will receive more buy-in if you ask their permission before telling them what you think they should do. This doesn’t mean abdicating your authority. It simply means treating them as the autonomous individual that they are rather than like a naughty child.
Simply saying, “I have some ideas for how you can handle that situation differently next time. May I share them?” will open up a conversation in which the other person is engaged and invested. Starting the conversation by saying, “Here’s what you should do next time” strips the other person of their autonomy and detracts from any invested interest they might have in creating a better work environment.
#3. Focus on a desired outcome rather than on placing blame. The way in which feedback is given – especially when something has gone wrong – is a key influencer of culture. You can create a culture of fear and shame with your feedback or one of courage and creative problem solving.
Positive, effective feedback is outcome-focused. It doesn’t ignore missteps or demand retribution when necessary; however, the point of inquiry is not to simply place blame. The point is to learn how everyone involved can rectify the situation and do better in the future.
#4. Complements and praise are nice, but quality information is better. Giving information about how someone is performing a task well is more helpful than simply saying, “Good job.” Feedback is most effective when the recipient is given specific information about what you feel they are doing right.
#5. Be judicious about when, where and how often you give feedback. In general, most of us start to feel nervous or self-conscious when we feel that our performance is being too closely monitored. It’s hard to feel motivated or empowered when someone is hovering over your shoulder waiting to give you their two cents about everything you do. It’s also important to allow plenty of room for others to analyze their own performance and correct their own mistakes.
The context in which feedback is given is also important. Giving feedback in front of other co-workers can create an unhealthy competitive environment where co-workers feel pitted against each other rather than against their own personal best.
Feedback is certainly a two-way street. It’s just as important to know how to give effective feedback as it is to know how to receive it constructively. However, as leaders, we are responsible for setting the tone so that utilizing feedback is a powerful means of personal and professional development. We can create an environment where feedback is simply a normal part of communication rather than a dreaded task to be avoided at all cost. To develop your feedback skills for a variety of leadership situations, check out the Mountain West Credit Union Association’s Leadership Institute.