7 steps to honest feedback conversations

Giving feedback badly is easy. We all know how to do that because we’ve all at some point been on the receiving end of bad feedback. Think back a moment… How did it feel during the conversation? Excruciating? Infuriating? How about afterwards, were you all fired up and motivated to improve? Probably not.

We know why we give feedback at work. The goal is performance improvement. And when the conversation is handled skilfully and well, it’s an adult-to-adult, assertive way of addressing mistakes (which are inevitable, everyone makes them) and agreeing the best way forward so that the mistake doesn’t reoccur. It’s also an excellent approach to highlighting good performance in a way that encourages more of the same. But those conversations still go fairly well even if you’re a little clumsy about it; it’s the feedback on negative behaviour where we tend to appreciate the help.

How to do it – 7 steps to good feedback

Here’s a simple framework for giving constructive feedback that seeks to change future behaviour.

  1. Be clear about what you want to achieve – What’s your goal, the purpose of this conversation? An exchange of information? For the other person to change their behaviour? Think about where the other person might be in relation to your goal and let this guide your approach.
  2. Agree a time and place with the other person – The way in which you do this will depend on the circumstances and your relationship with the person in question, but even a simple, “Do you have a minute for some quick feedback?” can prepare the ground and help put the receiver in a receptive mood (after all, by engaging on an equal footing you’re deliberately choosing not wielding any authority you may have).
  3. Tell them what you saw – This is about facts not judgement. STATE what the other person has done and/or said, using neutral, descriptive language.
  4. Point out the impact – Still without judgement, EXPLAIN the impact or consequences of the behaviour on others. The consequences may be subjective (e.g. “When you said X, I felt angry and upset”) or objective (e.g. “When you said X, the client started to shout and then left shortly after.”) but either way, they should be factual.
  5. Identify what needs to happen – Looking forward, EXPRESS what behaviour is desirable in the future. This may involve discussing options.
  6. Ask what they think – Allow them to express their reaction to what you’ve said. And remember, if you did steps 3, 4 and 5 well enough, you’ll get their reaction to what happened, the facts. They may have a different perspective and there may be some discussion, but if you stuck to the observable facts, then any discussion should be about those facts in the context of their job requirements and the organisation’s policies – nothing ‘personal’ at all.
  7. What next? – The ideal feedback conversation ends with both parties in agreement over what needs to happen next.

Top tips to keep in mind

That’s the basic process. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you go…

  • Be professional – Maybe you have your own emotional reaction to the other person’s behaviour but now is not the time.
  • Be timely – Don’t save feedback for another day (even if you have an annual appraisal system). 1) feedback is like bread, it gets stale and it’s best delivered fresh (to avoid the unanswerable response, “Why didn’t you tell me at the time!”) and 2) you’re just letting them carry on making the same mistake until it’s convenient to tell them about it? Really?
  • Show some empathy – showing that you understand the other person’s feelings can prevent the conversation escalating unnecessarily.
  • Avoid generalisations – Stick to specific actions and words to give feedback on; the more general you get, the closer the feedback becomes to the school report, “Must do better.” Did you ever receive one of those? Did it work?
  • And finally, remember: focus on facts not feelings.

To explore the feedback process in some useful depth and how you can use it in your business, check out our workshop Honest conversations.

If you’re interested in knowing more, just give us a call on 01582 463460 – we’re here to help!

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