Giving Feedback Effectively

Giving feedback is one of the most important tools for career growth. It may be easy to do, but hard to do well. Here we are talking about feedback that is delivered face to face.

A feedback can be of two types:

  1. Solicited – You are asked by the receiver to give them feedback.
  2. Unsolicited – You want to give feedback though the intended recipient hasn’t asked for it

While #1 is easier to handle than #2, unless the recipient is expert at receiving feedback, both require care when delivering the feedback. A feedback is really well-structured communication, and all communications build relationship. When you learn to give feedback well, you become good at building and maintaining good relationships, which goes a long way in enhancing your career growth in unforeseen ways.

A feedback can be positive too, and it is equally important to deliver a positive feedback as it is to do the critical one. However, given that this is positive, the downside of getting it wrong is really low (worst case, it sounds like a hollow praise, which is not too bad!). Feedback has come to mean critical feedback and that is how I am using the word in rest of this post.

Why Give Feedback

There are many reasons why you give feedback:

  1. Requirement of Role – If you are a manager, you are expected to give feedback to your reports. Depending on organizations, there are other roles which are expected to give feedback – mentor-mentee, employee-intern, manager-HR, project manager-team member, etc.
  2. Building Relationship – Relationships break when you don’t like a behavior but you don’t talk to the person to understand what went wrong. Giving feedback about what you felt and what should be done next is a great way of going forward and slowly build a trust relationship.
  3. Solicited – Sometimes, you are asked by someone to give feedback. It may be your manager soliciting feedback from his reports, or a peer or another team member genuinely interested in their development and seeking input.

How to Give Feedback

A good feedback is:

  1. Immediate: a good feedback is delivered as close to the actual event as possible. Otherwise, both you and the recipient forget details and the feedback may not remain effective.
  2. Personal: a good feedback talks about how it impacted you as a person, instead of talking in general terms. For example, ‘your words were very blunt’ is not personal, ‘your words hurt my feeling and made me feel small’ is. These are better because they can’t be challenged by the recipient as an arguable opinion, and hence focus stays on what to do about it.
  3. Non-judgmental – a good feedback is factual and avoids any judgmental statement. The goal is to focus on what can be done about it, rather than debating its merits. For example, ‘you were dismissive of any suggestions being given in the meeting’ is judgmental, while ‘when I offered a suggestion to the problem we were discussing, you dismissed it without spending any time on it’ is factual.
  4. With examples – A good feedback provides very specific examples so that the recipient can evaluate the feedback and act on it. For example, ‘you are not detail-oriented’ is not very helpful (though managers love to give such feedback! J), ‘Your last 3 spec documents had basic grammatical mistakes, the excel sheet you produced for our customer projection had some wrong formulas, and when I asked you to plan the team offsite, you didn’t take care of many logistics details; it seems that you lack attention to detail.” Is much more helpful for the recipient.
  5. Kind – A Good feedback is delivered with good intentions and with a goal to help the other person improve. So its choice of words are appropriately kind and empathetic, but without losing the specificity of the feedback. It is very important to keep the core feedback clear and precise, and not interpret kindness to mean sugarcoating and diluting the message.

Also, take permission before starting, keep reading the recipient’s words and body language, and be ready to modify/terminate your feedback mid-way. When you are done giving the feedback, you may be asked follow-up questions for clarification or help, so be ready for it. A typical follow-up will be ‘From your perspective, what would have been the ideal response from me?’

Handling Feedback Response

One of the hardest parts of the feedback is to deal with the response you might get from the recipient. These could be of all kinds, here are a few categories:

  1. Silent – The person is usually too shocked or hurt to respond. This silence can be very awkward. Usually, this can be handled by asking permission to terminate the session and leave the recipient alone.
  2. Defensive/Aggressive – The person starts explaining his actions and proves why their action was right under the circumstances. If this happens, treat this in a similar way you would treat an unsolicited feedback (listen, thank, and walk away). You may later choose to give feedback about the defensiveness shown by the person but it can be a slippery slope (if you tell someone they get defensive when receiving feedback, they can’t argue back because it will prove the point you just made, so they have no way of showing they disagree!).
  3. Receptive – The person thanks you for the feedback and wishes to terminate the session to go back and think about it. This is the best case scenario, and the right behavior you should expect. The person may do nothing about the feedback, and as a feedback giver, you don’t control it and shouldn’t feel bad about it. They may come back later to ask for more details or your suggestions to solve the issue you saw.

Best way to be good at giving feedback is to keep giving feedback to people and handle the consequences of some badly delivered (or received) ones! These experiences are your best teachers.

In our next post, we will focus on ‘how to receive feedback‘. Stay tuned!


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