Why bother to give feedback?
People develop their skills by learning from their experiences. Reflecting on what worked well and understanding why it worked well gives a person insight into how to address similar issues in the future.
The same holds true for situations that do not go so well. Thinking through the circumstances, questioning the approach taken, considering how things could be done differently on a future occasion and using the value of hindsight: through all of these we learn how to improve on our working practices and day-to-day behaviour.
Talking about a particular issue with someone we trust, or receiving feedback from someone who has observed the situation, can be highly valuable. Managed skilfully, feedback facilitates learning by reinforcing what behaviours to continue to do more of and what to omit or do less frequently. A person is likely to seek feedback if they recognise the potential for learning that it offers.
In the workplace, it is the manager’s responsibility to provide feedback about performance to the people in their team. People may also be offered feedback by a peer, someone external to the organisation, a colleague from another department, a subordinate, friend or a family member. Indeed, it may be unexpected and unsolicited and the topic need not be about work performance, but focussed on personal behaviour. It may be given outside of the workplace but still have a significant impact on one’s performance at work. Therefore, having the ability to give and receive feedback well is a useful skill in many areas of life and one that everyone in the workplace should master.
What can go wrong?
A number of things can contribute to unsatisfactory feedback. If given badly, the session may result in damage to the relationship between the giver and receiver, or compound the failings of an already fragile relationship. If the recipient hears the feedback purely as a criticism of themselves or their performance, they are likely to feel defensive, angry and hostile. They may deny the feedback, perceive it as negative and something to be avoided. Most significantly, if feedback is not given well, the opportunity for learning and personal development is likely to be missed, not only in the moment but also in the future.
Giving Negative Feedback
If negative feedback is to be given to a colleague it is important to state clearly what is unacceptable and what needs to be different following the feedback. The focus should be on the behaviour and it should not come across as an assault on the person. No one likes to be criticised and the skill of the person giving feedback can affect, to a large extent, how it is received. It is also important to consider whether the recipient will require any support following the feedback and how this will be sourced.
If you are faced with having to give negative feedback, apply the principles which are described below:
Principles for Giving Negative Feedback
- Be clear about the purpose of the feedback
- Be specific and avoid generalisation
- Speak for yourself, using “I”
- Explore possible reasons for the behaviour and acknowledge the other person’s view
- State the emotional impact and the effect of the behaviour
- Explain clearly how you would like the behaviour to change
- Confirm the benefits of change
In the following scenario, a staff member has become increasingly angry with a team colleague. The aggrieved member has decided to give feedback regarding the manner in which the colleague behaves in team meetings. This is a potentially difficult conversation and needs to be conducted assertively. An appropriate approach to the feedback is modelled and explained in Example 1. This is followed by a second, less suitable, approach as described in Example 2.
Model Example 1: Staff member giving negative feedback to a team colleague
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