We all have to give feedback from time to time – or do we? In my experience, it’s common to feel that you ‘have’ to tell someone something that has come to your attention. What is a lot less common, is taking the time to think what will be gained from giving the feedback. Yes, I know Ken Blanchard said that ‘feedback is the breakfast of champions’, and that we need it to learn, grow, and sort out our personal development – but that doesn’t mean that giving it is always a good thing.
My challenge to you is to see if there is another – or even better – way of getting your message across other than telling the other person something about themselves.
Hold Your Tongue!
An option I believe we could take more often is to hold fire. My experience of training managers has shown me that far too often the agenda for giving feedback is misguided, that it is about the manager ‘dumping’. Sometimes it’s about ‘getting it off my chest’. Other times it’s about ‘I ought to…’ – a sense of responsibility but with no clear idea what will be gained.
No gain, no point.
Take the time to work out what it is you can achieve by giving the feedback. What will be different because of it? You might find that the changes aren’t what you think, or what you would like. You might be able to clarify the changes you want to see, in which case your next step is to decide if giving feedback is the best way of achieving your goal. Sometimes there is a completely different route, sometimes feedback is part of the solution – but is only useful if you work out other strategies to help you influence or support the other person. Feedback alone may leave them floundering. If there is nothing to be gained, is there any reason for giving feedback at all?
- What are your true motives and intentions in giving the feedback? What does it say about you?
- What are you hoping to achieve by giving the feedback?
- How would you feel if you were not able to give the feedback?
- Is there another way of achieving your goal?
- If you do give feedback, what else needs to happen to make it effective?
People are not mind readers. Just because it is obvious to you that ‘ You’ve been late for work 5 times this month’ roughly means ‘I don’t want you to be late’, don’t assume the link is obvious to the other person. Assuming you choose to go ahead, spend more time planning what you want to ask or say after you have given the feedback as you do planning to deliver the feedback itself. In this example is there another way of addressing the issue? How about asking the person if they have a view on flexible working? If you can get the other person to raise the issue so that you can discuss it, it will be far more effective than you dumping potentially negative vibes on them.
One point to bear in mind if you are asking someone to stop doing something: do you know what behaviour/action you would like to see instead? Can you describe it? It’s much more helpful if the other person knows what to replace something with (or has options). If you effectively ask them to remove a behaviour, they may not know what to do instead.
If you must…
- What possible emotional reactions might the other person have? And how will you respond? You might not guess right, but thinking through the possibilities is part of preparation.
- Clarify exactly what it is you want to say. Make sure you eliminate assumptions and stick to reality.
- Think about when and where you will give the feedback.
- Consider timing. Feedback should be fresh and timely – but not immediate if there is anger or upset that needs to abate.
- Listen carefully. You may uncover fact that cause you to change your view or plan.
I’m playing devil’s advocate here, but the truth is that we don’t always choose the best way forward. We get stuck in our ‘You do it like this‘ rut without considering other options. I’m a big fan of looking at a situation from all angles before choosing the route forward.
By Julie Cooper
Author of Face to Face in the Workplace
“If you deal with people you need this book” Buy your copy here