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The art of giving feedback at work

Updated: Aug 11, 2022

Giving feedback at work is tricky. It requires striking a delicate balance between compassion and indifference. Kindness and impartiality. No one likes getting criticized unnecessarily at work, and above all, no one enjoys being put down for no good reason too. And so, when a need for feedback arises, tact, consideration, empathy, and thoughtfulness of the recipient’s feelings must be exercised. This is made all the more challenging when one considers that everyone reacts differently to feedback.

To give feedback in a kind yet powerful way without sugar coating is a never ending battle. It feels like walking a tightrope at times, but it is a skill that everyone must acquire. After all, Psychology concerns the effective management of human behavior and emotions, and effective communication is a key aspect that is often overlooked by senior managers and leaders . If you, like many other inspiring leaders, are looking for ways to speak up about a colleague’s mistakes at work, or perhaps you’re looking to deliver feedback to an employee in a way that is helpful and impactful, here are some pointers for you.

Avoid the sandwich feedback

The sandwich feedback, or compliment sandwich - the act of slapping two compliments between a feedback - is often seen in the workplace.

Contrary to popular beliefs, it is NOT a great way to drive home the message. In fact, it puts the recipient through an unnecessary emotional roller coaster ride. Studies have shown sandwich feedback yields polarizing results. It either results in poorer work performance and leads to negative self-perception, or the recipient will only focus on the positive to make themselves feel better, which leads to a lack of improvement. Giving feedback is all about being constructive, that is to be objective and helpful. Practice compassion, not contradiction. Ponder the 3 examples of constructive feedback below:

● “I notice you’ve been lagging behind your work lately. Let’s talk about it, I would love to know if there are ways for me to help you.”

● “Your recent work has been unsatisfactory, what seems to be the problem? Is there anything that you would like to tell me?”

● “You didn’t perform well in your recent job, but let’s work together to address these shortcomings. Here’s what I notice in your mistakes.”

Seek to understand

Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? The 5Ws and 1H. Asking these simple questions shows people that you are listening. It signifies presence and genuine interest in understanding people’s thought processes behind their behaviors. When in doubt, ask. Never assume, and never jump the gun. Asking questions empowers the recipient to speak up and to claim ownership of their actions. Most importantly, it sends the message that their mistakes are nothing to be ashamed of, and that only by recognizing their mistakes can they improve. The entire process serves to help people accept their shortcomings, to embrace it as a part of the learning experience.

Make it a two-way conversation

Just as you are willing to provide feedback, you have to be open to receiving them too! And more importantly, be ready to offer your assistance. Make it a point to find out how YOU can help your employees or coworkers grow from the experience. Above all, never allow your personal feelings and emotions to dictate the conversation. If your coworkers’ words upset you and you find yourself on the edge of saying something nasty, take five and make a mental note to revisit it later. Never retaliate in an attempt to spite the other party. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Consider asking these questions next time:

● How can I help?

● What do you need from me?

● Do you have any feedback for me?

● How will doing this benefit us?

Carry out self-reflections

Self-reflections are a great way to consolidate and summarize the takeaways from a conversation. Regardless of who happens to be on the receiving end, it helps to take a step back, adopt an outsider’s view, and distance yourself from the situation, you would be utterly surprised at the discoveries you make. There’s always room to improve the way you deliver your words, the tone you use or the intentions behind your message. Here are some questions to consider:

● Was I objective in delivering my feedback?

● Was I insensitive with my choice of words?

● Was it necessary for me to say that?

● Can I improve on my choice of words?

● Was I being too personal with my feedback?

Schedule 1:1 follow ups

Every so often, it’s a great idea to check in and speak to your staff and coworkers about their performance. Doing so keeps both parties on track of their performance, allowing each party to identify any current or future potential challenges that may derail their progress. Self-improvement is a never ending journey, and it is only through constant feedback that we grow and become better versions of ourselves.

Make it count

More often than not, people associate giving feedback with harsh or insensitive remarks. That is NOT true. The goal of a feedback is to ensure it is felt, acknowledged and understood by the recipient, not to put them down and make them feel unworthy . When the time calls for feedback to be heard, remember to stick to the point, to be direct, objective, and constructive. Remember, it is compassion, empathy, not contradiction that ultimately allows people to grow. And if you can master the art of giving feedback to others, you will soon find that it will also benefit your interpersonal relationships.

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