5 Ways to give better feedback at work
We all want to be perceived as excellent employees, but getting there involves honest conversations about what we’re nailing, where we’re lacking, and our areas for growth. These conversations don’t need to be uncomfortable if they’re handled properly. Here are some tips for giving better feedback at work.
Why feedback is important
We all have blind spots about the perception of ourselves at work. But we also want to realise our potential and reach individual goals we’ve set for ourselves. The missing link here is something we cannot give ourselves: feedback. “Regular feedback from your manager allows you the opportunity to improve in response to the feedback,” says Lenwhin Arendse, managing director of Aspire Human Capital Management. “After all, you can’t improve if you’re not told where you’re going wrong. It compensates for our blind spots.” Respondents of a PWC survey would agree: 60% agreed that they would like feedback on a daily or weekly basis. This figure jumped to over 70% for those under 30.
The primary purpose of feedback is to manage employees’ performance and align on expectations of the role, but these conversations are also powerful in building trust within a team. “Regular, constructive feedback helps build relationships with individual team members,” explains Arendse. “Employees should never be in doubt as to their performance, since this leads to uncertainty and can lead to a deterioration of the trust relationship with their manager.” If you’re looking to improve your relationship with your manager while working remotely, start with these tips.
If you work for an organisation that runs 360 reviews, even better! You have a regular opportunity to receive honest and constructive feedback from your colleagues, too, which can help you build relationships and work better as a team. “Honest and constructive feedback implies [that your manager and colleagues] care enough to tell you what you need to hear for you to change for the better. It is invaluable,” adds Arendse.
But there are some stumbling blocks that can get in the way of effective feedback.
Why we struggle to give feedback
We need better training
According to the 2018 Gallup Workplace Experience Panel Survey, only 14.5% of managers strongly agree that they are effective at giving feedback. Considering feedback to employees (and managers) is key to employees’ success, career growth and organisational performance, the lack of confidence managers have in tackling these conversations speaks to a need for training, as Arendse explains: “Organisations invest heavily in performance management systems, but inexplicably do not train people on how to give and receive feedback.”
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As an employee, it’s easy to breeze through feedback – when it’s positive. It can be tougher when we have to digest uncomfortable truths about ourselves from people we report to or work alongside daily. Even with training, it’s not easy for managers to dish out negative feedback or constructive criticism. “It can still be difficult giving feedback that someone may find hurtful, and then have to deal with the consequences,” says Arendse. Feedback also pushes us to be vulnerable, which often is uncomfortable. “This is why even top performers find performance reviews uncomfortable,” adds Arendse.
A skill for success in the workplace
Feedback can very easily damage someone’s confidence and sense of self-worth if not given appropriately, says Arendse. “This can cause immeasurable harm to any relationship, including the employment relationship,” he continues.
It’s now the norm that soft skills are key to leadership success in the workplace. According to an article published in Business Communication Quarterly, communication, social skills, team work and a positive attitude were four of the 10 soft skills perceived the most important by business executives. There’s an intersection of these skills in giving effective feedback.
The key to better feedback
Better feedback tip #1: Keep it objective
Similar to a scientist presenting findings, or a lawyer arguing a position, sticking to the facts and formulating feedback based purely on this is not only key to a fair feedback review, but also keeps objectivity front and centre. Issuing feedback through sweeping statements without facts at their basis can easily come across as a subjective rant. “One of the common mistakes is not spending time preparing for the feedback session,” shares Arendse. “A common mistake managers make is not having specific examples of behaviour or performance that need to be improved. This results in not only the feedback, but also the person giving it, being perceived as not credible.”
To prepare for a feedback review, reflect on the agreed, tangible goals or objectives an employee has set for themselves, and review their progress based on these.
Better feedback tip #2: Encourage mutual participation
While traditional feedback does involve the dynamic of a line manager giving feedback to a team member, this shouldn’t be a barrier to your participation in the conversation. “Feedback should always be a non-threatening conversation that allows and promotes the person receiving feedback to actively participate and respond,” says Arendse.
Better feedback tip #3: Focus on the future
A 2020 study published in PLoS One suggests that the common practice of discussing our own past performance, with an emphasis on how and why outcomes occurred and what that implies about our strengths and weaknesses, can be counterproductive. So how to remedy this? Focus on the future. A key finding of the same research was that the more recipients felt the feedback focused on next steps and future actions, the more they accepted the feedback and the more they intended to act on it.
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Better feedback tip #4: Give recognition where due
Nearly 70% of employees say they would work harder if they felt that their efforts were better recognised, according to a Workforce Mood Tracker Survey by human capital management software solutions provider Workhuman. We want to feel visible, and that the work we’re doing is seen and valued. So intentionally recognising an employee’s current efforts – even if there is still room for improvement – can do wonders for self-confidence and enthusiasm to reach their goals.
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Better feedback tip #5: Do it more regularly
“Most people dread the thought of sitting through annual reviews, irrespective of them giving or receiving feedback,” says Arendse. “More often than not the reason for this is that there isn’t a culture of feedback in the organisation.” So, to avoid this dread, explore ways you can share feedback more frequently so there aren’t any nasty surprises come the formal annual review. “Ideally you want to give and receive feedback as part of normal, daily work life and not limit it to annual reviews,” adds Arendse. This is especially useful if there are pain points that need to be addressed promptly, instead of allowing them time to fester and potentially ruin team dynamics or compromise the quality of work you produce.
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