As featured in LegalBusinessWorld eZine 2023 – issue #7

Meaningful feedback is essential for everyone’s growth: the giver, the receiver, and
the organisation as a whole.

Yet, only 5% of employees believe that their managers provide the guidance and direction they need. Workplace surveys show that people don’t just want to hear more about how they are doing—they crave feedback.

Many managers find it challenging to make the time to provide feedback on top of completing their already considerable workload. Others feel uncomfortable providing ‘tough feedback’ and managing people’s emotional or defensive reactions to said feedback.

However, most of the time, the feeling of uneasiness on the parts of both the giver and receiver can be mitigated by reframing how we deliver our feedback.

Feedback is a gift. It allows our teams to learn and grow. Every time we water down or avoid giving feedback, we miss an opportunity to help people develop.

So, let’s look at how we can offer meaningful feedback.

  1. Your Team Wants to Know—Often. Honest and constructive feedback creates a safe and supportive environment where people can grow and thrive.

    Feedback boosts relationships with explicit links and a sense of purpose between the present moment (the snapshot of behaviour we capture with our feedback) and the future (the improved performance we are leading our teams towards).

    Constructive feedback prompts improvements and new behaviours. It is especially effective when it is built on trust. Infrequent feedback, on the other hand, deprives our teams of a consistent and clear sense of direction, which contributes to diminished trust.

    Infrequent feedback happens, for example, when feedback is tied, or limited, to formal appraisal processes or HR-led reviews. We tend to underestimate the many opportunities we have for offering daily feedback.

    For instance, when something is moving along positively or when different contributors have established effective collaboration, we have opportunities to provide feedback and engage with our team on what is working well, what can be improved, and what changes they would like to make.

    Real-time feedback can not only be provided daily, but can be offered in all directions. We can offer feedback to our own managers, team members, colleagues, and business partners. In each case, our feedback offers opportunities to build greater trust and encourage improvement.

    Meaningful ongoing feedback builds solid walls of safety and columns of trust that each of us needs. When these foundations are in place, negative feedback is often better received.

  2. Be Authentic. What You Truly Think is What They Will Hear.
    If you care, it shows.

    When your intent is to genuinely develop performance and impact, your choice of words, body language, energy, and even your silence will communicate that intention.

    When your mindset is instead focused on fixing, telling someone off, or attacking the person rather than addressing the problem, your choice of words, body language, energy, missed pauses, and silence will also communicate your intentions.

    We all have big antennae. Even when the feedback is positive, if it’s fake, we won’t believe it. Instead, we will feel manipulated.

    Start by acknowledging the positive. Genuine appreciation may help you head to a constructive exchange. For example, ‘the whole analysis is well structured, however…’ or ‘building on what you have already considered, an additional way forward could be…’

    If we anticipate that our feedback will be hard to hear, let’s ask ourselves: What do we truly wish to achieve in this conversation? Consider a role reversal for a moment. What would you hear if you were on the receiving end of this feedback? Would you find it helpful?

    When we dress up criticism by saying ‘I just want to give you my honest feedback’, what often happens is that the conversation turns into being about us rather than the person whose performance we are trying to improve.

    And if it turns out to be about us and our ego, it will not be meaningful, let alone effective, feedback.

  3. Stick to the Golden Rule of Feedback: Keep It Specific.
    Meaningful feedback requires clearly presenting the alternative behaviour we wish to reward.

    With that said, the alternative we present must be realistic, actionable, and attractive for the receiver to act on our feedback.
    For example, if we want to encourage better collaboration among our team members, we need to spell out exactly how that collaboration will look, for instance, when contributing to the drafting of new documents or when covering each other during the Christmas holiday.

    For positive feedback to be meaningful, it also needs to resonate effortlessly with the receiver. For example, if we use generic language like ‘that was a good meeting’, we are being unclear and missing out on an opportunity to highlight the specific behaviour we want to reward. Vague feedback is subject to interpretation.

    An alternative could be: ‘I’d like to offer you my feedback on our meeting. I appreciated how you aligned your expectations by regularly checking in with everyone, and how you wrapped up at the end by including everyone’s contribution. That was really useful.’

    Specific feedback is more likely to resonate with the actions and intentions of the person we are giving feedback to and, therefore, will support continuing the positive behaviours we wish to reward.

    Whereas, if our feedback is too generic, it will not be meaningful or useful. If the receiver of that feedback cannot understand exactly what it is about, they will not be able to act on it.

  4. Time is of the Essence. We Engage With Feedback Better if It is Provided in the Moment.
    Both positive and negative feedback follow the same rule: time is of the essence.

    Positive recognition that is disconnected from the moment in which it is relevant lead to a sort of emotional dissonance. The receiver will likely wonder: ‘Why are you telling me this now?’

    On the flipside, negative feedback that is disconnected from the moment in which it is relevant impacts the receiver’s ability to act on it in a timely and effective manner.

    In order to be meaningful, feedback must be given soon after the event or behaviour you wish to address or encourage. For example, think about those times when you want to prompt further action: ‘I know you have been working on this document for some time. How are you progressing?’

    The longer you wait, the less likely it is that your feedback will lead to change.

  5. Did You Ask for Feedback on Your Feedback?
    Meaningful feedback aims to enable dialogue and build relationships. Communication is a two-way street.

    What we want to unlock is, ultimately, insight. Thus, with every feedback conversation comes a moment to ask the other person: ‘How does this sound to you?’
    The feedback we receive on our feedback often stretches our conversation and allows us to hear how the other person has experienced the same situation. Often, their perception will be different from our own.

    For example, let’s say you are offering feedback to a team member who is reluctant to contribute to meetings. Maybe you would like to suggest that they be more proactive. That team member may reply by saying: ‘I wanted to raise my points, but I didn’t feel ready to articulate them and, by the time I did, the meeting had moved on.’

    That feedback will allow us to expand our initial suggestion so we can, for example, explore wider confidence issues, talk about improving our preparation for meetings, or identify a ‘quick win’ that may support greater participation.

  6. Cultivate a Healthy Feedback Culture.
    Start With Yourself.
    Meaningful feedback allows us to build a positive culture around mistakes and to disconnect the act of making mistakes from the notion of having failed.

    When these two concepts are disconnected, and frequent constructive feedback is offered, people are allowed (and, when needed, empowered) to become effective ‘mistake makers’.

    For example, we can ask for and provide feedback on ‘ideas for introducing a new system’, reinforcing a shared belief that progress and change are often built on a foundation of errors. We can openly prompt a conversation about how to respond to our mistakes because no one can be creative if they are not allowed to play with new ideas.

    A healthy culture of frequent feedback allows us to continue improving, making changes and adjustments, and following up with more questioning and more feedback.

    Finally, the art of giving feedback includes owning our past mistakes by using ‘I’ statements, such as: ‘When I looked into this a few months ago, I missed seeing an alternative.’

    Our past mistakes are an extraordinary way to engage with people at different levels. They build credibility and nurture trust because no one always gets everything right. In the long run, this approach boosts (not diminishes) our authority as leaders.

Experiencing any of these issues? Find out how coaching can support your specific challenges.

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