Giving Effective Feedback

I have coached many managers who struggle with a team member’s performance. Generally, they feel they have made performance expectations crystal clear. But the employee just doesn’t seem to get the message. Over time, the gap between expectations and actual performance widens, until it turns into a serious problem.  When we dig a bit deeper though, we often find that the reason for the performance gap is that the managers haven’t provided enough helpful feedback.  They are just hoping that the employee will somehow absorb the message that they aren’t doing the job in the way they want.  How can we give effective feedback?

 The ability to change behaviour is linked to learning. For someone to be given the opportunity to change, they need to become aware of how they are experienced by another person. The process of telling another individual how they are experienced by us is known as feedback. And most of us aren’t very good at it.

 Giving and receiving feedback is fraught with difficulty because negative feedback re-stimulates memories of being rebuked as a child, whilst positive feedback goes against life rules about not having a big head. Most people only give or experience feedback when something is amiss. The feelings surrounding feedback therefore often lead to it being badly given so that fears are most likely reinforced.

Here are a few simple ideas for giving and receiving feedback that turn it into a useful transaction which can lead to change.

 Giving feedback

 When giving feedback, this needs to be focussed on some specific behaviour that the person can change. It is not helpful to comment on things that can be interpreted as judgements (you are lazy) or generalities (you are always so slow) What you are aiming to do is to bring about awareness of the impact of behaviours that the person can reflect on and change. So, for example:

 “We agreed that you would complete xxxx tasks by yesterday morning and as yet there are these four tasks not completed. This means the project has fallen behind.” You can then discuss why the tasks have not been completed and move forward accordingly.

 A mnemonic that serves as a reminder of how to give good feedback is CORBS:

 C lear

O wned

R egular

S pecific

 Clear –  Try to be clear about what the feedback is. Being vague and faltering will increase the anxiety in the receiver and will not be understood

Owned – The feedback you give is your own perception and not an ultimate truth. It therefore says as much about you as it does about the person who receives it. It helps the receiver if this is stated or implied in the feedback, e.g. “I find you…” rather than “You are…..”

Regular – If the feedback is given regularly, it is more likely to be useful. If this does not happen there is a danger that grievances are saved up and then delivered in one large package. Try to give the feedback as close to the event as possible and early enough for the person to do something about it, i.e. do not wait until someone is leaving to tell them how they could have done the job better.

Balanced – It is good to balance negative and positive feedback. If you find that the feedback you give to an individual is always either positive or negative this probably means that your view is distorted in some way. This does not mean that each piece of negative feedback must always be accompanied by something positive but rather that a balance should be created over time.

Specific – generalised feedback is hard to learn from. Phrases like “You are irritating” can only lead to hurt and anger. “It irritates me when you forget to record the telephone messages” gives the receiver some information which they can choose to use or ignore.

 Finally, always ask yourself this question before you give feedback:

 “Am I focusing on results or am I saying why can’t you be more like me?”

 If you would like some coaching or training around giving feedback, contact us at Margaret Martin Associates.


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