Feedback is simply a tool that someone can use to discuss someone else’s observable behaviour and then provide information for them that they believe will encourage and/or help them develop skills.
The feedback trap is when the person giving the feedback believes they are right and that the other person should change their behaviour. Even if you are someone’s direct leader you are still sharing your perspective and not necessarily the truth. You can expect - but not control - whether someone changes their behaviour based on your feedback.
To give useful feedback that encourages people and helps them grow and develop you need to consider your mindset and your method.
Whether you are giving corrective or reinforcing feedback you need to be clear on why you are providing it. Ask yourself why you are sharing this? Your answer should connect to genuine care for the other person’s success at whatever they are engaging in. If you don’t genuinely care about the other person’s development and growth then you are probably setting yourself up to criticise them and not provide them with feedback.
This gets a little more complex when you are a direct leader of the person you are providing feedback to. In this case, you have a clear expectation that they will accept and act on your feedback because you are essentially accountable (but not responsible - more on this in a future blog) for whether they perform their role successfully or not. In this case, you need to be clear about your expectations and include this in your method - more on this below.
There are many feedback models out there that prescribe a step by step process for giving feedback. I believe that instead of following a script, you should include four key elements in every feedback exchange.
1. Timing - is this a good time to give the feedback? You can never guess at this - you need to ask the other person.
LISTEN TO THEIR ANSWER AND RESPOND ACCORDINGLY
2. Observation - what observable behaviour did you notice the other person do or not do? Do not share what judgement you make of the observable behaviour, simply share what you noticed.
PAUSE TO HEAR WHAT THEY THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU SHARED
3. Impact - what impact do you think the behaviour had on the process, task, other people involved? Sharing this will usually inspire the person to consider what is important about this situation.
ALIGN ON WHAT’S IMPORTANT
4. Action - what will happen next? This is sometimes called feedforward. This is the “Now What” part of the conversation. You can collaborate on this together - you don’t have to have it all figured out - in fact, sometimes it's better for the other person to decide this.
If you are providing reinforcing feedback, the action, in this case, would typically sound like - “keep doing that”, or even “do more of that”.
AGREE ON SPECIFIC NEXT STEPS
Special caveat for people who are direct leaders of the people they are providing feedback to. This is the place in the feedback exchange where you - as the direct leader - need to make clear your expectation for action and determine follow up steps that are designed to hold the person accountable to different behaviour.
When you include those four elements in your feedback method you are honouring the spirit of feedback being a tool to help another person develop and grow.
Want to practice this or talk through an important opportunity where you want to give feedback?