Feedbacking with purpose: 7 thoughts worth thinking

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I am often asked, what can we do to improve relationships in the workplace? I often ask: How frequently do you feedback? The following are my thoughts on why feedbacking with purpose helps everyone (the giver, the receiver and the wider organization) and 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 or behaviour we are suggesting working towards.

1. Feedback opportunities are available all the time to each of us

When we feedback upward, downward or right and left – our managers, team members, colleagues and business partners – we have great opportunities to bring up authenticity, build safety, offer chances for real improvement and share something about ourselves the other party doesn’t know yet. When the main aim of the feedback is to express positive appreciation, we have plenty of room to develop all of these. When the main aim of the feedback is to communicate that something requires improvement, we also have plenty of room for relationship building. Feedbacking creates a meaningful place where to meet the other party – and acting on the feedback we receive is an even greater place to build our working relationships.

2. Start with appreciation. It helps

Receiving feedback can be triggering. Starting a conversation with genuine appreciation is a way to head to open dialogue. For example, when something is overdue and quick feedback may sound like a ‘telling off’, starting by recognising potential difficulties and signalising connection may serve as a quality conversation starter: “I appreciate this is a new matter to you. Is there anything we can do to assist with its progress?”

We all tend to underestimate the many opportunities we have for offering ongoing feedback, in addition to end-of-task feedback. For instance, when something is moving along positively, wise planning has been implemented or when different contributions have established effective collaboration. Positive ongoing feedback builds solid walls of safety and columns of trust that each of us need. When these foundations are in place, feedback are better received.

3. What you truly think is what you will ultimately communicate

If our focus is on genuinely building connection and improving individual performance, our choice of words, body language, and even our silence will communicate that. When our focus is on fixing, telling off, seeing the problem and not working on the best way to address it, our words, body language, and missed pauses or silence will communicate that as well. So let’s ask ourselves: What do we truly wish to achieve? Consider a role reversal and a self-coaching moment: What would you find more effective for yourself? Ultimately, all we are aiming for is realistic and manageable ways forward and the ability to build on what is working. When we dress unprocessed criticism with offering ‘entirely honest’ feedback, what often happens is a conversation that is more about us than the person we are trying to feedback.

4. Stick to the golden rule of feedback: keep it specific

The mindset we choose goes hand in hand with the point we will raise: our feedback has got to be personalised and spot on. It has to land effortlessly on that particular circumstance and resonate deeply with that particular individual. ‘That was really a good meeting’ is lovely to hear, but let’s consider the following: ‘I’d like to offer you my feedback to our meeting. I very much appreciated how you aligned expectations by regularly checking in with everyone’. Specific feedback is more likely to resonate with the actions and intentions of the person we are feedbacking and will encourage continued positive behaviours.

5. Communication is a two-way process: did we hear the other person’s point of view?

Meaningful feedback should be a dialogue enabler, not a monologue script. With every feedback conversation comes a moment to ask the other person: and what is your perspective? At times during our conversations, we find out that the other person has very different priorities, experiences the situation differently and has expectations that are inconsistent with ours. Whatever the outcome of our feedback – alignment or understanding that we are not in alignment – role playing may work effectively. We can, for example, ask the other person: What do you see as my perception or my priority? Summarising what’s next for the receiver of the feedback is a helpful way to wrap-up our conversation. This is, in essence, a SMART wrap-up moment.

6. Time is of the essence. We engage with feedback better if it is timely

Both positive and validating feedback and the ‘we need to find a more effective way of doing this’ kind of feedback follow the same rule: Time is of the essence. Positive recognition that comes disconnected from when it is relevant feeds a sort of emotional dissonance: and why are you telling me this now? Negative feedback that comes disconnected from when it is relevant impacts timely (and hence effective) interventions.

7. Follow up. And then feedback again

Feedback has the potential to lead to change, but isolated feedback is sometimes insufficient to capture an entire situation or a more recurrent behaviour. If we intend for our comments to lead to effective and sustainable change, follow up on actions that worked, further thoughts we didn’t consider in the first place and how a certain situation has developed will keep us on track and arm us with motivation to keep going. Ultimately, if we want our relationships to improve, we need to draw a clear journey to our aimed destination and ongoing feedback will act as middle stops to regularly support that journey.

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