“I dread my annual appraisal,” Hamid tells me. “Why?” I ask.
“That’s easy ... I walk into my boss’s office where he will be sitting behind his desk with his arms folded. Just like a big cat ready to pounce, he will give me an hour of ‘constructive feedback’ and I will leave deflated and demoralised and with all of my confidence lost. I know that there are various areas of improvement I could make — but my strengths will not even be mentioned.’
Giving and receiving feedback is one of the most important communication skills we can learn. But it is bad practice to only identify negatives and fail to recognise the positives and strengths of individual team members. Concentrating only on addressing the negatives will, of course, be those remarks that will stay in an employee’s mind.
However, when feedback is carried out correctly, then you will find that it can be the pathway to measurably increased performance and productivity.
Feedback needs to be delivered carefully and certainly not just once a year. This is not a birthday treat. Feedback should be an ongoing process that should be carried out regularly. There is also a place for informal feedback as well as in a formal setting.
However, it should be a two-way street and there are rules that will help you in this process.
* Make it a positive experience: Before you deliver feedback, think through what you are going to say, how you are going to say it and what you want to achieve. The aim is to improve the situation or performance and this will not be achieved if you are angry, aggressive or ‘put the person down’.
The person needs to feel good about themselves and have an open mind and a willingness to improve. Your feedback should start with a positive comment, then followed up with a constructive comment for them to work on, and concluded with a suggested — positive — way forward.
The chances are that the person will remember the last thing that they hear from you, so practice this ‘positive-negative-positive sandwich’.
* Choose your time: If you give feedback from an event that is long forgotten, then it will not have the same impact as if you had spoken to the person immediately after the event.
* Prepare what you want to say: Even though you don’t want your feedback to sound contrived, it may be helpful to know exactly what you want to convey and to be clear about your objectives. If you are unambiguous about specific points that you want the individual to improve upon, together with the required time frame, there can be no ambiguity. Clear thinking, correctly transmitted, will bring you results.
* Location: If you are having a private conversation, then that is exactly what it should be — in private, with closed doors and with all phones switched off. There may be, of course, a requirement for public feedback, but this should be planned separately.
* Keep to topic: You want to keep to just two to three primary issues if you require to see improvement from the individual concerned. More than that carries the risk of the person feeling demoralised and losing interest in how they are going to carry out the points of your critique.
The whole purpose of feedback is to improve performance and you need to measure whether this is happening or not. If not, then to make the necessary adjustments accordingly.
It can be useful to document your conversation of the meeting and to give out a copy so that both leave the conversation knowing exactly what has been discussed. Feedback can be a very efficient personal development tool that can improve performance dramatically.
It does not need to be demoralising for the recipient. On the contrary, it should be stimulating and rewarding.
However, you need to be careful about the words you use and how you deliver them. What you say and how you say it has the capability of making any given situation either better or worse.
Feedback is a valuable communication skill and, as with all skills, can be acquired and used successfully.
- Feedback must be constructive, not destructive.
- Both positive and negative issues should be recognised.
* The purpose of feedback is to improve performance.