Feedback consists of the messages we send to a person (or a group) which gives that person information about how we react to their messages and how s/he affects others. Feedback helps an individual consider and alter his/her behavior and thus better achieve his/her goals. Additionally, feedback is central to building understanding and establishing trust, two of the cornerstones of effectively motivating employees.
Feedback serves two primary functions for a leader/manager:
- Feedback is a sign to others that a leader has truly attended to their concerns, needs or ideas.
- Feedback from others offers a leader an opportunity to learn about the concerns, needs and ideas of co-workers or subordinates.
Here are several guidelines for providing effective feedback:
- Remember, Feedback is communication When providing feedback, you are not only sending back messages about how you are receiving the other’s message, but about how you feel about the other person and your relationship with him/her. Keeping this in mind will help you to construct feedback messages that take more into consideration than merely the content of what we have to say.
- Describe Don’t Evaluate Feedback should merely describe the sender’s reaction, thus leaving the receiver free to use the feedback or not. Avoiding evaluative language—such as “you are wrong” or “that idea was stupid”—reduces the need for the receiver to respond defensively. As a manager/leader, you will always have a bottom line to communicate and that bottom line can feel like an evaluation. Communicating the bottom line without judgment will assist others in receiving your message. For example, “I appreciate your hard work in establishing a new accounting system. You have developed a thoughtful and detailed proposal. However, we will need to implement the system developed by the external marketing consultants.”
- Be Specific, Not General Feedback that is specific allows the individual to know exactly what behavior is to be considered. To be told that one is “dominating” will probably not be as useful as to be told: “Just now when we were deciding the issue, you did not seem to listen to what others said, and I felt forced to accept your arguments or to face attack from you.”
- Take Into Account the Needs of Both the Receiver and the Giver of Feedback Feedback can be destructive when it serves only the giver’s needs and fails to consider the needs of the receiver. If a manager tells an employee, “Now that I’ve heard what you’ve said, do what I told you,” it is clear that he/she is only feigning effective listening and has failed to adjust for the needs of the receiver. In general, feedback is most useful when given as soon as possible after the observed behavior.
- Check the Feedback Feedback should be checked with the sender to make sure that the message was understood correctly. For example, the receiver can rephrase the feedback received to insure clear communication. Feedback can also be checked with others in the situation. Both the giver and the receiver can check the feedback—is it only one person’s impression, or is it shared by others?
- Direct the Feedback Only to Behavior that is Changeable Direct the feedback toward behavior the receiver can change. Frustration is only increased when people are reminded of shortcomings over which they have no control. Telling someone that they have an annoying quality to the sound of their voice is not constructive feedback when the person has asked for feedback on a presentation. Most of us have little, if any, ability to change or control the sound of our voice and might be understandably hurt and offended if this is the type of feedback we receive. This type feedback is even less helpful and more resented when it is unsolicited.
- Make Sure that Feedback is Well Timed In general, feedback is most useful when given as soon as possible after the observed behavior. This does, however, depend on the person's readiness to hear it, on support available from others, and so forth.