The Lesson: Use constructive feedback to positively influence performance by following these 5 rules. (1) Master your words, tone, and body language (2) Don’t give feedback when your angry (3) Don’t do the feedback sandwich (4) Focus on what is meaningful and valuable at this time and (5) Identify what the person should start, stop or continue doing so they can be successful
The Story: Several years ago, I experienced one of those horrible feedback moments. The kind where I found myself an hour later stewing in my office, having one-sided conversations on what I should have said, and texting my husband empty threats of quitting my job. Needless to say, I had just received feedback and it hadn’t gone well. It wasn’t the first time in my career that I had received constructive feedback, but it was the first time where I felt like my character was under attack. Was there some validity in the feedback that I had received? I’m sure there was, but at that time, I couldn’t see it as I was still reeling from the way it was delivered. What I do remember though was a fear of the person who delivered it to the point where months later, I still struggled to be completely honest when sharing my opinions with them I remember cringing every time someone said to me, “I would like to give you some feedback”. And worse, I remember doubting my abilities to do my job…. Not exactly the feelings you want your team members to have when you are trying to inspire high performance. If you want a high performing team, you need team members to WANT feedback because they understand the direct impact on their performance. You need them to ASK for it regularly so they can quickly and adeptly adjust their course of action to meet every situation. In order for your team members to want and ask for it, they need to be confident in others’ abilities to do it right.
When it comes to feedback, I’ve been a giver and a receiver, a student and a teacher, and more importantly, the person that many people sought out to complain and vent to because how poorly it was delivered. I was what I would call the clean-up crew. I found myself dispensing tissues, offering words of encouragement, boosting crushed egos, and deciphering the valid points that were lost in the sea of hurtful and toxic comments. As a result, I have 5 rules of feedback that I practice at work and at home. So whether you are giving feedback to your manager on how they led your team meeting or to your spouse on how they do the laundry, consider these five rules before you engage.
- Rule #1. Master your words, tone and body language. If the phrase “you dummy” could easily roll off your tongue at the end of your comments, then you need to master the art of feedback – Words, Tone and Body Language. Let’s talk about the words first. Are you talking about the person or their actions? You want to focus on the latter. Here is an exercise that I have used in the past. Take a blank sheet of paper and create three columns – A, B, and C. List all the words you WANT to use to describe the person in Column A. These are usually nouns and adjectives. In Column B, list the actions that you observed that support each word in column A. For example, if you listed the word “micromanager” in Column A, in Column B, list the actions you observed that support that word. Then in Column C, list the impact the action had on you. Narrow down Column C to 2-3 themes. Use these themes (C) and the supporting actions (B) to share with the person what you observed and the impact. Do NOT use Column A. Here is an example:
Now, if your words are spot on, then check your tone of voice. I can take a nice statement like “you did a thorough job of reviewing the pros and cons of expansion”, and alter the impact from positive to negative simply by changing my tone of voice. Go ahead and try it. You can too. Tone is important. Record yourself using your iPhone and see how it plays back or ask a friend or co-worker to listen to you. If your tone is on point, then the last thing to check is your body language. Are you in the person’s personal space? Is your position defensive? Do you have furrowed brow and angry eyes, you know, the kind that can burn holes into someone? Do you roll your eyes (guilty as charged!)? I know it sounds silly, but many times we don’t know how we appear to others. Tone and body language can be even more powerful than words. All of this can be hard to do when you are angry, which is why I have Rule #2.
- Rule #2. Don’t give feedback when you are angry. This past week I have upped the intensity of my workouts to deal with some of the anger I am feeling. It feels good to punch and kick the bag in the gym. It’s a release. However, the person on the other end of your feedback is not your personal punching bag. The purpose of feedback is not for YOU to feel better. The purpose is for you to help them BE better. Who are you helping when you lash out – you or them? Instead, try taking a walk and some deep breaths. Collect your thoughts by going through the exercises in Rule #1. Clear and controlled feedback will have a more positive, lasting effect than brash, anger-fueled name calling. And always keep in mind that there are two of you in the feedback discussion. Make sure you are BOTH in the right mindset and ready to listen. Ask the person if NOW is the right time to give them feedback. And when the time is right for both of you and you share your constructive feedback….
- Rule #3. Don’t do the feedback sandwich. Don’t try to cover up constructive feedback by slipping it in between the extra cheese and mayo. It tastes good but you lose the individual flavors of the contents. Your potentially POWERFUL (granted, maybe hard to hear) feedback will get lost and then nothing will change. Again, the purpose is change. I understand that you don’t want to hurt the person’s feelings or ego. But if you followed Rules #1 and 2, then trust that you are being respectful and although there will be feelings of disappointment, these feelings are not directed at you. When you give feedback, separate the positive from the constructive to have BIG impact with the intent of BIG change. And keep the feedback manageable. I limit myself to three key points total. More than three, and it becomes too hard for the person to tackle and improve. I once had a manager who gave me 7 things to improve. Guess how many I actually did something about? None. I was too overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start, which brings me to Rule #4.
- Rule #4. Focus on what is meaningful and valuable at that time. I support continuous improvement, but when you find yourself nitpicking and compiling a long list of things to improve, ask yourself, do these things really add value? Do they change the end result? Is there only one way to get this done right? If the answers are yes, then please continue but keep Rule #3 in mind. Don’t overwhelm the person. Now, when people are new to a job there can be lots of room for improvement. It doesn’t mean you don’t share their areas for development. You do, but allow team members time to master one area before introducing another area to improve. And last, but certainly not least….
- Rule #5. Identify what the person should start, stop or continue doing so they can be successful. A common complaint I used to hear from team members was the lack of guidance on how to move forward and improve. By the end of the feedback, the person on the receiving end should know what they need to do differently. Ask them to play it back to you to make sure they heard you and understand. Clarify as needed.
Feedback is one of the 5 basic building blocks of performance management. Done well, it has the power to drive change and influence results. Done poorly, it has the power to de-motivate and derail results. Want a high performing team? Teach them how to give feedback the right way. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how Talent First Consulting can help your organization.