5 ways to improve face-to-face feedback
Giving and receiving feedback is vital for both managers and employees.
It creates a dialogue that delivers valuable insight to improve business performance, while at the same time boosting employee engagement, helping with retention and staff development.
People and organisations thrive on feedback and it is critical to success in today’s knowledge and talent driven economy.
However giving and receiving feedback, particularly in face-to-face situations can be difficult. It is easy for someone to feel they are being criticised and therefore become defensive and then not take on board what is being said.
A fear of being seen as the bearer of bad news can lead managers to sugar coat potentially negative feedback, diminishing its value and impact. On the other side, less personal, more anonymous channels such as the internet that put distance between the two parties can go too far the other way, with harsher feedback provided – just look at any review site.
The scale of the issue is demonstrated by recent research from Interact, which found that over two thirds (69%) of managers surveyed said they were often uncomfortable when communicating with employees.
Nearly four out of 10 (37%) worried about giving direct feedback that they felt employees would react badly to. This illustrates the scale of the problem – failing to give honest feedback means staff have no idea how they are doing, holds back their performance and development, and impacts how the wider organisation functions.
We’re moving to a culture where always-on feedback is central to building a flexible, agile business that can react to ever changing market conditions. Therefore, managers need to learn to deliver (and take) feedback better. Here are five areas to focus on:
1. Depersonalise it
It is human to react negatively to what is seen as criticism. So ensure that you, as a manager, understand the emotions involved and try and depersonalise the situation. Bear in mind that you are providing feedback on the person’s actions and behaviour, not them as an individual. Ensure you make the distinction clear when talking to the employees you work with.
2. Stress the positive
The aim of feedback is to help the employee to grow and do their job better – and it is important to reiterate that. Make sure that you stress that you are trying to improve what they do and enable them to deliver on the potential they have within them.
In uncomfortable situations many people have a tendency to talk in order to fill the vacuum, without listening to what the other person has to say or giving them chance to react. Make your points, but ensure you are having a dialogue, with space for the employee to respond and interact. It will help your message resonate and increase engagement over the longer term.
4. Respect the conversation
Set aside sufficient time to give feedback, and focus on the person you are talking to. Don’t rush off or appear distracted as this will undermine the message you are giving and come across as rude and unhelpful. Follow up afterwards to ensure that you are both clear on what was said and what the next steps are.
5. Be specific
Vagueness doesn’t help anybody. Give specific examples of where you think improvements are needed and explain how things could be handled differently. Be polite and direct, but base your points on facts, rather than hearsay or feelings. By making things concrete it is easier to have an honest discussion that will lead to positive change, rather than one that will simply be seen as unproven criticism.
Feedback is central to learning, both as a business and an individual. Therefore ensuring you can give honest, helpful and above all actionable feedback, even in the most difficult circumstances is a vital skill for every manager today.
Alex has over 17 years’ experience in Voice of the Employee and Voice of the Customer programmes – mainly with large international organisations in the communication and financial sectors.
Since the mid 1990s Alex has worked in online research managing hundreds of employee surveys. Over this time he has developed a keen understanding of...