“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” – Bill Gates
It’s hard to give feedback constructively, and it’s even harder to hear it without feeling criticised.
Given well, feedback should be supportive and encouraging; leaving the recipient in no doubt what they can do to improve, as well as the renewed energy and passion to do so.
However, clumsily given feedback can lead to a lack of trust and a plummeting of motivation and performance as the way words are heard can be very different to the way they were meant to be construed.
Giving feedback can be an emotional minefield. But it’s a skill which can be learned and – when used correctly – is enlightening and empowering. If you’d like to improve the way you give feedback to colleagues, friends or family here are 7 ways to give more constructive feedback
“One of the things I’ve learned is to be receptive of feedback.” – Ben Silbermann
When giving feedback, think about why you are telling the person this information. If you wish to build their confidence and encourage them, don’t drown them in nit-picking or small criticisms. Pick the one thing you’d like them to improve upon and focus on that, and that only. Be as specific as you can be in the content of your message and how you convey it. Think and make notes before you talk – this is not a time to wing it.
Stay neutral and pick your battles
“99% of people give feedback that is irrelevant, stupid, or just flat out wrong. But that 1% of people who give good feedback are invaluable.” – Tucker Max
When giving feedback on a specific event, it’s all too easy to say what you would have done in a similar situation. This is not helpful. Try and remain neutral and base your conversation on facts not opinions.
Furthermore, don’t give blanket feedback on things that cannot be changed, such as key personality traits or characteristics. There’s no point saying “you are always late” if you are not going to delve in to why this may be and support that person to change their behaviour.
“On a personal level, I send out about 20 thank-you notes a day to staffers, on all levels. And every six weeks I have lunch with a group of a dozen or so employees, to get their perspective on the business, to address problems and to get feedback.” – Douglas Conant
You don’t want anyone to walk away from a feedback-based conversation feeling dispirited and downbeat. Stay positive, laugh with each other and remember you are allies not enemies. You can also show vulnerability and empathy without making the conversation all about you.
“Anyone working at HootSuite will tell you that I don’t sugar-coat my opinions. I heavily encourage feedback and suggestions – partly because I’m blunt about offering the same in return.” – Ryan Holmes
In relationships with others it’s important to be authentic. If you are being open and honest it’s OK to say you don’t know the answer to something. If you know something is wrong but can’t pinpoint it, start a discussion. If you are not sure how to fix something, and you’ve been asked for your advice, can you ask for time to think about it or brainstorm together. As well as being honest, it’s refreshing to find leaders who also ask others to be honest with them.
Ask open questions
When critiquing a piece of work, don’t be afraid to ask open questions.
Whenever I do this I am reminded of The Elephant’s Child by Rudyard Kipling:
“I Keep six honest serving-men:
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Where and When
And How and Why and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.”
Just as it’s important to be open and show you don’t know all the answers, it’s also valuable to ask questions and be curious before you give feedback or critique.
You can ask questions such as:
Who could this work for?
What happened when you did…?
Where did it take place?
When did it take place?
Why did that happen?
How could this work if you tried this?
This curiosity-led and objective approach to historic and future behaviour opens dialogue and leaves yourself and others more receptive to talking, finding creative solutions to problems and putting projects back on the right track again.
Look at the bigger picture
“Startups are rapidly changing systems. If you use an annual review cycle, you aren’t getting feedback at the same pace that you need to adapt and change the business.” – Fred Wilson
Before giving feedback, remember the bigger picture. What outcome are you trying to achieve with this project, work or conversation? What do you need this person to do and will your feedback help them to do it better, faster or differently?
When giving feedback, imagine you have a bird’s eye view of the situation – don’t micro-manage but leave it to your colleague to work out how they will achieve the goal you’ve set them.
Look for opportunities to improve your feedback-giving skills
“Leaders cannot work in a vacuum. They may take on larger, seemingly more important roles in an organization, but this does not exclude them from asking for and using feedback. In fact, a leader arguably needs feedback more so than anyone else. It’s what helps a leader respond appropriately to events in pursuit of successful outcomes.” – Jack Canfield
Every time you give feedback you can improve your performance the next time. How? By talking to the individuals or teams to whom the feedback was given and finding out what they learned from it and if your feedback helped them get to where they wanted to be. It can be a good idea to do this in an anonymous survey online rather than face to face, as this may aid honesty. Do listen to, take in and learn from what is said. You are never too old or senior to stop learning.
Do you have any tips to add to this list?
How do you learn from your own behaviour?
Please let me know your thoughts below.
“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better. I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.” – Elon Musk