Giving feedback is like giving a person a snapshot of himself.
The first thing you do when you look at a picture of yourself is to pick it apart. You want the picture to be a good one, accurate and flattering. You want a "good hair day". You want to improve the picture in any way you can. Sometimes you want the photographer to re-take the picture.
When you give feedback to others, think about the picture you are giving them of themselves. Help them to improve the picture and understand their resistance to seeing an ugly one. Help them form a more accurate and actionable picture of themselves by following the tips below:
1. Devote time to feedback.
Structured, planned feedback should be balanced with ad hoc feedback. Without a plan for feedback, the comments seem random, capricious, even mean-spirited, and will be ignored.
2. Be specific.
What action do you like/not like?
When did it occur?
What effects were created?
Avoid generalities like “Everyone thinks you are stubborn.” This is not actionable feedback.
3. Balance positive and negative feedback.
Consistently negative feedback turns people off and will close off communication.
4. Give good reasons.
If you want some behavior or attribute to change, explain to the person WHY it is vital to change this attribute.
5. Create a plan.
Many people would like to change but do not know HOW. Help the person see how subtle shifts can create different effects. Give short step-by-step ideas for changing the behavior.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. The biggest mistake made in giving feedback is trying to tackle every problem or the whole picture in one meeting. This overwhelms and upsets the person. Better to make progress on one small part than no progress at all.
The following anecdote shows the cycle of accurate and actionable feedback.
Joe arrives for his weekly one-on-one with his manager. He is aware that the last 10 minutes of the meeting are devoted to development feedback.
His manager (Rita) reviews a recent team meeting where Joe withheld information from a peer, causing the peer to flounder on his presentation to the group.
Rita discusses what happened in the meeting, how the withholding of vital information caused the peer to be upset and look unprepared in front of the group. Rita explains that if the group works together they look better as a group and they have more influence across the company. Rita explains how this withholding behavior has generated a poor image of the group from the outside.
At this point, Joe defends himself and points out why his behavior was correct. Rita takes no issue with his defense and simply acknowledges it. Joe’s defensiveness is expected and his justifications are listened to and acknowledged with no special importance given. Defensiveness is a trait common to all human beings. After acknowledging only (NOT arguing) with his reasoning, she simply proceeds to work out with Joe a set of steps to avoid this problem in the future.
Rita suggests a few steps for Joe and lets Joe volunteer steps as well. Joe suggests he meet with his peers regularly and find out what information might be needed from him for presentations. Joe also suggests he proactively share information when he receives it. Rita agrees to any ideas she likes and suggests ideas of her own. The two of them agree to a short plan (three to five steps) and both sign off on it. At the next one-on-one, they both check in on progress. Any changes to the plan can be made at that time.
Good feedback should be a well-planned cycle that starts with noticing an issue, continues with scheduled and impromptu feedback, and finishes with improved performance reviews. With a thoughtful approach and patience, you can move the needle on changing behavior and developing better leaders.