For many of us reading these lines right now, the idea of a feedback session is associated with stress and anxiety. And is it really a surprise, that feedback can be daunting for people? After all, having an honest discussion about one’s performance can be awkward and uncomfortable.
But here is the good news; it doesn’t need to be this way. And in today’s Blog post, we are going to check out exactly how it’s done correctly in order to bring everyone’s performance to a higher level while keeping your heart rate and blood pressure in a healthy range.
But first things first… Why is feedback even that important?
📍 Feedback is always there:
If you are rolling your eyes right about now and thinking about not reading on because you already know it all - sandwich technique included (please stop using this flawed model by the way, would you? It's manipulative and superficial and everyone can see it coming) - I have some bad news for you… you cannot escape it. No matter how hard you try. We are continually receiving and giving feedback. Feedback comes in many shapes and forms and is around us all the time. Every time we speak to a person, employee, customer, vendor, etc., we communicate feedback. In actuality, it’s impossible not to give feedback.
📍 Feedback can improve performance:
Feedback is often mistaken for criticism. In fact, what is viewed as negative criticism is actually constructive and is the best kind of feedback that can help to formulate better decisions to improve and increase performance. Continued learning is the key to improving.
📍 Feedback is the future:
Culture needs to be ‘frequent feedback’ focused. Feedback matters to Gen Z, and a lot of employees in general, and many of these people value continuous feedback and communication. It exhibits a vested interest in their well-being and career development.
[For a deep dive into the Gen Z topic, check out weekly10]
So, the big question is, how do we give effective feedback? According to cognitive psychologist LeeAnn Renninger,
"the way that most people give their feedback actually isn't brain-friendly: its either very indirect and soft and the brain doesn't even recognize that feedback is being given or it is too direct, and with that, it tips the other person into the land of being defensive."
Thankfully, in her TED Talk she shares a scientifically proven method for giving effective feedback.
According to her, you can use the following four-part formula to say any difficult message well:
Step 1: Start with a micro-yes. Great feedback givers begin their feedback by asking a question that is short but important. It lets the brain know that feedback is actually coming. It would be something, for example, like, "Do you have five minutes to talk about how that last conversation went" or "I have some ideas for how we can improve things. Can I share them with you?"
Step 2: Giving your data point. Here, you should name specifically what you saw or heard, and cut out any words that aren't objective. There's a concept we call blur words. A blur word is something that can mean different things to different people. Blur words are not specific. So, for example, if I say "You shouldn't be so defensive" or "You could be more proactive." What we see great feedback givers doing differently is they'll convert their blur words into actual data points. So for example, instead of saying, "You aren't reliable," we would say, "You said you'd get that email to me by 11, and I still don't have it yet." Specificity is also important when it comes to positive feedback, and the reason for that is that we want to be able to specify exactly what we want the other person to increase or diminish. And if we stick with blur words, they actually won't have any clue particularly what to do going forward to keep repeating that behavior.
Step 3: The impact statement. Here, you name exactly how that data point impacted you. So, for example, I might say, "Because I didn't get the message, I was blocked on my work and couldn't move forward" or "I really liked how you added those stories, because it helped me grasp the concepts faster." It gives you a sense of purpose and meaning and logic between the points, which is something the brain really craves.
Step 4: End on a question. Great feedback givers wrap their feedback message with a question. They'll ask something like, "Well, how do you see it?" Or "This is what I'm thinking we should do, but what are your thoughts on it?" What it does is it creates commitment rather than just compliance. It makes the conversation no longer be a monologue, but rather becomes a joint problem-solving situation.
"Feedback isn’t about instructing or scolding: it’s about giving someone the information and tools they need to develop their strengths and get over their hurdles." — Jenny Podewils, Co-Founder of Leapsome
If you need a more visual feedback formula, check out this approach from Leapsome.
📍 When giving constructive feedback, remember these four steps:
Situation — Impact — Pause — Solution
Describe the SITUATION from your perspective
i) “whenever I see you in a meeting (situation)...”
ii) “...you seem to switch off (behavior).”
iii) “I often notice you looking at the clock on the wall or checking your phone. Sometimes you seem tired or distracted. I’ve also noticed you never have questions to ask at the end.” (your perspective with examples)
Explain the situation's IMPACT
“That can make whoever is speaking feel like they’re not being listened to. It can also be a distraction for the other participants.”
PAUSE for the other person’s input “Does that seem like a fair comment to you? What’s your experience of our meetings?”
Employee: “I find it hard to engage when I don’t feel like my input would be valued.
Find a mutual SOLUTION
“Your input is definitely valued! Why don’t you try leading the meeting next time?”
📍 And when giving positive feedback, remember these three steps:
Situation — Impact — Gratitude
Describe the SITUATION from your perspective
i) “Over the last two weeks you’ve been working so hard on tidying and transferring our sales data to the new CRM” (Behavior)
ii) “I know it’s a really tedious process and maybe it feels like you’ve been in the background while your colleagues have been working as normal.”
Explain the situation's IMPACT
“Thanks to you, we can now move forward knowing that all our data is in the right place, and we have a much more accurate overview of our sales pipeline!”
Express your GRATITUDE
“Thank you for working so hard: it hasn’t gone unnoticed, and I’m really grateful. If you have any ideas for the next project you’d like to work on, just let me know!”
RECEIVING Feedback – Push vs. Pull
Now this is the true skill to have, the one that sets you apart from all the others. We already established that you cannot escape from getting feedback all the time anyways, so you might as well make the best of it, right?
Sadly, not every human being giving you feedback in your future life reads this Blog (what a shame, I know!), so unfortunately, we cannot influence how other people give us feedback and I am sorry to tell you, but a majority of them will probably not do it in the proper way that we learned today. So the true important skill for YOU is being able to receive feedback. To filter it and even when easily taken personally, to always perceive it as a learning opportunity. How to do that you ask?
📍 Active listening: Immersing yourself in practicing this important skill engages your analytical brain to need to deconstruct their communication, creating a distance from your emotional brain that may otherwise want to jump in and defend itself. You’re so busy engaging with what you’re hearing (“What’s the key message I’m hearing? Is there any emotion here? How am I going to summarize this?”) you don’t have time to think about a (possibly ill-judged) response.
📍 Developing a receiving feedback mindset: Let’s be clear, accessing a broad range of others’ perspectives is the only effective way to understand our true strengths and development areas in the real world, instead of our more-often-than-not mistaken beliefs about how we think we are experienced by others. And even though this is uncomfortable territory for most people, always keep in mind that Any individual piece of feedback says more about the giver than the receiver. All feedback is perception. Developing this perspective allows you to stay in that judgement-free mindset when you hear something that you believe is unfair or inaccurate. It is all just perception.
Wait, you need even more convincing that receiving feedback is a skill worth working on? Well, remarkably, great feedback givers can not only say messages well, but also, they ask for feedback regularly. The research on perceived leadership of LeeAnn Renninger and her team shows that you shouldn't wait for feedback to be given to you -- what we call push feedback -- but rather, you should actively ask for feedback, what we call pulling feedback. Pulling feedback establishes you as a continual learner and puts the power in your hands.
So why not making a shift from push to pull, from randomly receiving to actively requesting it.
Summing up, giving and receiving feedback should come from empathy and respect, and ask questions about the other person's needs.
And keeping in mind the following tips will help you in a world full of unofficial feedback sessions.
Check your motives: Before giving feedback, remind yourself why you are doing it. The purpose of giving feedback is to improve the situation or the person's performance. You won't accomplish that by being harsh, critical or offensive.
Active listening & clarity: try to understand what the other person is saying, ask questions, ask for specific examples if they are not given, so that making a plan for a change in your behavior will be easier.
Make it regular: Feedback is a process that requires constant attention. When something needs to be said, say it. People then know where they stand all the time and there will be few surprises. Also, problems don't get out of hand.
Accept the feedback & react non-defensively: don’t search for excuses, like we often do, listen, think about it and try to accept it. You don’t have to agree with everything people say, but it’s worth listening.
Be timely: The closer to the event you address the issue, the better. If the situation involved is highly emotional, wait until everyone has calmed down before you engage in feedback. The recipient will more likely hear what you're saying, and you'll avoid saying something in the heat of the moment that you regret later.
Be open: ask for feedback as often as you can and be open, when someone approaches you with feedback.
Be prepared and specific: Tell the person exactly what he needs to improve. This ensures that you stick to facts and there is less room for ambiguity. Give feedback from your perspective. This way you avoid labeling the person.
Make a change: feedback was given to you with a purpose, that you will change something about your behavior – try do work on it.
Be grateful: Be grateful & say thank you to the person that gave you feedback – he/she actually took the time and he/she cares enough for you, that he/she wishes you to change.
“Great feedback changes our behavior in a way that later on we’re grateful for, and that we believe made our lives better.” — Julie Zhuo VP of Product Design at Facebook
Let's get started. Bring on the feedback!