How do you feel when you hear these six words: ‘Can I give you some feedback?’
Terror? Anxiety? Automatic defensiveness and resentment? We are so used to the word ‘feedback’ being used as a euphemism for criticism, that we often forget how useful it can really be. But there are few scenarios, professional or otherwise, in which (well delivered) feedback won’t be helpful, even if it amounts to the verbal equivalent of a pat on the back.
In my experience, there are three potential outcomes from delivering feedback. And more often than not, it’s personal behaviours that decide which scenario is played out.
Scenario #1: Positive Impact of Feedback
When it is delivered successfully, feedback is a powerful tool. The most obvious benefit is that it can keep everyone on the right track; delivering timely feedback can nip potential problems in the bud before they develop into serious issues or conflicts.
The positive benefits of feedback don’t stop there. Recognition and encouragement are excellent tools for boosting productivity and engagement company-wide.
Feedback is also a great way to build relationships at work, and can contribute to a supportive atmosphere of mutual respect and trust. This is especially true when feedback goes both ways, rather than solely being given by managers to members of their team. It was recently discovered that most people would prefer to work in a family-style mentoring organisation; feedback is an essential way to achieve this productive environment.
Scenario #2: No response to Feedback
Surprisingly, this isn’t the worst possible outcome from giving feedback. But let’s not pretend it’s ideal. In a recent Employee Outlook Survey, the CIPD found that only 52% of employees felt that performance management was helping them to perform better at their job.
There are a number of reasons why you might feel like you’re talking to a brick wall when you’re trying to make constructive comments. A few of the most common ones are:
- You are not making yourself clear. Sometimes we are so reluctant to criticise others that we over-euphemise, with the result that the core message gets lost. Clouding your feedback with hints and politeness won’t get you any results, and could even generate distrust
- Your employees are not engaged. It’s a difficult truth to confront, but sometimes it can feel like your team simply don’t mind whether they are performing satisfactorily or not. This is usually a more deep-rooted issue and needs to be addressed through sustained changes in behaviour and attitude.
- You aim for quantity over quality. This applies whether you are giving positive or negative feedback: your comments will lose value if they are too frequent and lack a real message, especially when they are not followed up with stronger action for greater achievements or more serious transgressions. Simple expressions of congratulation or displeasure are useful, but change only comes out of more insightful suggestions.
Scenario #3: Negative response to Feedback
In a report published in Psychological Bulletin, A. Kluger and A. Denisi concluded that at least 30% of performance reviews ended up in decreased employee performance. This is a classic and too-common example of feedback gone wrong. Unfortunately, delivering feedback can feel like a bit of a minefield; it is hard to strike a balance between being aggressive and overly critical, being too condescending, or not getting to the point at all. Getting it wrong can breed resentment, de-motivate employees, and erode confidence, creating an overall lapse in productivity.
I think I can guess which response you’re aiming for when you give feedback to a member of your team. Critiquing someone’s performance can sometimes feel like walking a tightrope; it’s one of the hardest things to get right