How do we give feedback so people can hear it?

I have recently been working with an organisation that is on a growth spurt. Managers are grappling with the consequences of increased workload, new team members and the new challenges that scaling-up brings. There is a growing recognition that sustainable growth requires more than simply adding in extra head count. They are grappling with their culture, performance management, delegation and trust.

One of the immediate opportunities they are working on is their ability to give feedback that makes a difference. The last four words are key of course. It is easy to give feedback – and to get frustrated when people take no notice. Rather than giving up on them and concluding they are not up to the task, perhaps we might step up to the challenge of giving better feedback. Giving feedback that feels less like a slap in the face and more of an exciting invitation to try something new.

After-all, Who decided that ‘feedback’ meant criticism?

If I say ‘Have you got a minute, I want to give you some feedback?’ what assumptions do you make? For most of us the immediate reaction is ‘Oh dear, what have I done wrong?’ We have learnt that the only feedback of any use is about our failings and weaknesses. Have you ever asked for someone to give you feedback on a report only for them to hand it back with the words ‘Sorry, I couldn’t find anything wrong’?

But what’s the purpose of feedback – Is it to tell me that everything is ok, or am I genuinely interested to learn how I can improve?

The most valuable feedback is a balance of ‘What is working?’ with ‘What could I now do to take the next step up?’ When people provide detailed examples about the times we get it right, they give us the most valuable data. ‘Do this’ is infinitely more precise than ‘Don’t do that’.

Of course, we need to hear when we can improve too. But if the only feedback you give someone is about their failings, they are likely to reject a lot of it. The voice in their head is likely giving a version of ‘You don’t understand the reasons why I had to do it that way.’ Get the balance right, appreciate their moments of brilliance, and on the occasion you voice an opportunity to improve that inner voice is far more likely to reflect ‘I think you have a point, I could pay attention to that.’

Most importantly, building a healthy feedback culture takes time – so keep the conversation going!

If you want to talk to one of our team to explore how we might help you transform the culture in your team please get in touch.