As promised, now the guide in the series of posts related to feedback. The first part was about a framework with which you could systematically develop a feedback culture in your company. Now we are “talking” about the specific situation. I particularly encourage HR colleagues to read the linked articles from part 1.
The aspects from the first article, which are essential to me, are also the basis of the recommendations here. So: the subjectivity of feedback, the dependence on the (learnable) reflective ability of both participants and that feedback is a process that can trigger fears. I have divided the recommendations into three sections: recommendations for both participants, for the feedback giver and for the feedback taker.
For both participants
- Change of perspective
Whenever possible, try to put yourself in the perspective of your counterpart. How might she/he respond to your feedback? Do you just want to give a hint for an uncritical topic or is this a feedback that tackles the personal sphere? Changing perspectives as a method makes your feedback more sensitive and focused, while helping to reduce the stress associated with feedback.
- Respectful interaction on eye level
Treat each other with respect and your conversation partner on eye level. Show that you care about your counterpart´s well-being or development.
Good listening is the basis of feedback, do not interrupt. Ask questions just for understanding.
Openness is the basis for good feedback. Follow up if you feel that something isn’t being said.
- Remain objective, use emotions in a targeted manner
The conversations should take place in a factual, unexcited atmosphere. Avoid accusations, flare-ups or even outbursts of anger. On the other hand, controlled emotions can be clear and supportive when a point is particularly important to you.
- Thank you for the exchange
For the feedback giver
Praise and development feedback are equally important
Working with executives, we know that critical feedback is difficult for them. Studies show, however, that the older and more confident an employee is, the more they want this corrective feedback. Not addressing important topics therefore has more to do with self-protection, with the sensitivities of the feedback giver. So, be courageous, it depends on the “how” and how much your counterpart trusts you.
In my view, the oft-quoted sandwich theory of feedback is not correct, according to which a criticism is embedded at least twice in praise. You will notice from your counterpart how to dose praise and developing feedback. However, avoid a chain of critical feedback. According to the motto, “if I’m already there”.
From here on, I will only use the term “developing feedback” when I relate to feedback that is otherwise described with criticism, correction, or negative feedback. I am bothered by the raised index finger, the distance associated with criticism; correction or negative feedback is not appropriate cause feedback is subjective, the feedback provider has not necessarily leased the truth. I prefer the term developing feedback because that is what it’s all about: personal development. The most important points are:
Don´t overload a conversation with topics. More than two areas of development are difficult to mediate, process and subsequently pursue. Focus on the topics that are most important for your business, for your team.
- Customer perspective.
Always explain the topics from a customer perspective. This also helps to focus or prioritize your points.
- Orientate yourself to the strengths
Neuroscientific studies show that we or our brain develop better in the areas where we are already strong. Therefore, feedback should be based on the strengths. In areas that are among the weaknesses, you need to assess whether development is possible and how important the topic is for you, your team or your company.
- Give specific feedback
Feedback should be specific; avoid banalities and respond to specific situations that you have noticed.
- Validate the points
Wherever and as far as possible, try to support your argumentation, validate it: with data, reactions from customers or other employees.
- Connect with support offer
Feedback becomes productive when you combine your feedback with a support offer and make a follow-up appointment to talk about the observed development in that point.
- Ask for permission
If you want to give feedback spontaneously, ask for permission in advance to provide feedback.
- Praise Correctly
If you praise, avoid generalities. Praise should also be specific. In addition, you should not praise a special talent, it´s better to emphasize the effort or an extraordinary commitment. For example, if you see that an employee or team has been struggling successfully for a longer time to improve a product, process, software…
In my experience, the following steps for developing feedback are successful:
- My Feedback Staircase
- Sharing perception – always argue in the first-person language.” I noticed that…”
- Share your own experience with the point
Why can you assess the topic well, where do you have special expertise?
“I have had the following experiences on this point…” Or on sensitive topics on the emotional level, argue:
“The observation triggers the following for me….”
- Formulate a recommendation or wish
- Sharing experience: “From my experience, I can recommend the following, the following has helped me”
- Sensitive topic: “I want you to do so in the future…”
- Formulate an offer of support
- Agree on a follow-up
- Mental Contrasting
Mental Contrasting, developed by psychologist Gabriele Oettingen, is a conversational technique in which the current reality is contrasted with the desired future reality in order to generate motivation. By looking to the future (rather than the mistakes of the past) and from it discuss and agree on the necessary steps to get there.
- Spontaneous feedback – “stop the belt”
If you notice something special, give spontaneous feedback. If your team for example is working together very concentrated, first good results become visible, stop the belt to use an image from manufacturing. Explain why from your perspective the situation is special, pause for a moment. And then it goes on. In this way, you create an awareness of what is special and promote the “anchoring” for the special in the brain.
For the feedback taker
Go openly into the conversation and regard feedback as an opportunity to evolve.
- Thank you for praise
I think the point is too often neglected. If you thank for a praise this is a sign of appreciation.
- Do not justify yourself
You do not have to justify yourself for a behavior. Your counterpart would like to tell you what he/she has observed. There is no need to explain a why. If necessary, ask questions for understanding, so that the points raised are also clear.
- Set limits if it goes too far
On the other hand, you should not put up with everything. If your counterpart gives insensitive feedback or attacks you personally, you should set limits. With controlled emotions but determined.
The subjectivity of feedback, the orientation towards the strengths or the fears associated with it, may be points that surprise you or that you see differently. My recommendation is that you share and discuss these ideas with others. My attitude to feedback has evolved: from a skeptic to a supporter, to write the short version.
My understanding is that feedback can foster collaboration in your company and contributes to the development of people and organization. For me, this is the heart of a new leadership and it takes courage to take the first step into a continuous feedback culture, so this is a development issue. Practice helps, for example with the framework presented in the first article.
I hope that you will find support with the format mentioned and the feedback guide. And as always: Comment here or send me an e-mail, if you have a different assessment or new aspects. In exchange, we can certainly specify the points or make them better.