GUEST ARTICLE: Giving feedback? Here are some things to consider first

Research shows we want more feedback at work – it’s an essential part of improving and developing in the workplace. However, for feedback to be beneficial, it must be delivered well.

Here are some practical points to consider on how to give out constructive criticism without deflating the recipient, but instead encouraging them to flourish.

Differences in how we respond to feedback

Whilst many tips abound on how best to provide negative feedback, a starting point should be that people respond differently. Generic tips, from being respectful to preparing in advance, are important to follow, but be cognisant that responses to feedback will vary from person to person.

Particular differences can be found between the way men and women receive feedback. Research suggests that men take greater notice of positive feedback than negative, whilst women are more influenced by negative than positive feedback. In addition, women tend to have lower self-belief in their abilities than comparable men. This means that women internalise negative feedback, which then impinges on their self-confidence, to a greater extent than men.

Further research also shows that women receive less actionable feedback than their male counterparts. This means that where criticism is made, there is no solution provided.

As a result of these findings, managers who are giving feedback should be conscious of the gender bias highlighted in feedback delivery.

Interweave feedback into your work

Often negative feedback is saved up until an annual performance review, making it a daunting year-round experience. It can also mean that mistakes or challenges go unresolved, making it harder to react in a later stage.

Netflix has been making headlines for its ‘radical candour’ when it comes to feedback. Netflix’s policy outlines that ‘feedback is a continuous part of how we communicate’ in order to ‘avoid sustained misunderstandings’, and acknowledges that ‘this level of candor and feedback can be difficult for new hires’.

Whilst this feedback culture may be an extreme example, it shows that feedback need not store up for a single performance review but instead regularly provided. By adjusting to this outlook, it can ensure that feedback is a commonplace, useful tool for professional development.

There’s three parts to negative feedback

Any negative feedback should be made in three parts. First, a fact should be raised as the point of criticism. It’s important to avoid general statements but instead identify a specific example of poor performance.

Once the criticism has been identified, the next step is to outline the impacts of the mistake. Unless the consequences of the criticism are explained, the recipient may not understand why the behaviour is problematic.

Lastly, negative feedback should provide an actionable solution. There should be a clear route as to how the recipient can improve on the criticism made. This is known as developmental feedback as it allows the employee to grow in the workplace.

By following these three stages, the feedback given should have maximum impact without leaving the employee disheartened or feeling targeted.

Feedback Sandwich: healthy or substance-less?

There’s mixed opinion on the ‘feedback sandwich’, which involves sandwiching negative feedback between two pieces of positive feedback.

Proponents of the feedback sandwich argue that is important to state what someone is doing well, just as much as it is to highlight flaws. By including positive feedback, the recipient is less deflated and therefore more likely to then act on the negative feedback – rather than feeling too dejected to even try and improve.

Opponents, however, argue that the feedback sandwich is unhelpful. The employee may not think the positive feedback is genuine, but rather used solely to soften negative feedback, which ultimately reduces trust in the relationship. Conversely, the employee may walk away with a false impression of their performance, believing that the two pieces of positive feedback outweigh the negative feedback.

Ultimately, whether the feedback sandwich is healthy or substance-less may link back to how people respond differently. By knowing the employee, you should be able to determine if the feedback sandwich is something they would digest well or find unappetising.

Feedback is an ongoing conversation

It is important that the recipient of feedback has a chance to respond in case there is an explanation or context for the behaviour. By allowing space for the recipient to react, it also enables a culture of open, continual feedback and improvement. It ensures that a relationship of trust and honesty develops between manager and employee.

This conversation should also be ongoing; the feedback should be followed up and acknowledged when improvements are made. This supports the employee to continue to develop and demonstrates that the manager was sincere in giving feedback for the purpose of improvement.

Having outlined these five points of consideration, it is clear that giving feedback is no easy task. From gender bias to feedback sandwiches which leave a bitter taste, it is hoped that these pointers will assist in making future conversations smoother.

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