Manager giving feedback

“John, I have some feedback for you.”
“I want to have a conversation about your performance.”

You can imagine the sense of dread you would feel hearing this. You’re immediately thinking of everything you may have done ‘wrong’ and probably thinking of how you can justify it. The conversation hasn’t begun yet, but your defences are up.

Giving feedback effectively is probably one of the most important management skills you can master; it’s also one that is often done badly.

For most of us, if we’re giving feedback to someone it’s because there is something about what the person is doing (or not doing) that we find frustrating or is not, in our view, the ‘right way’ to do it.

This is why many people view it as criticism and so don’t do it, because we are effectively saying “you are doing this wrong, or not how I want you to do it”.

This also reinforces the idea that all feedback is negative when, if done correctly, all feedback should, in fact, be seen as a positive as its an opportunity for you to help people achieve their goals and develop

Imagine you’re trying to deliver a message to John.

If you adjust your mindset to be 100% about helping John get a better outcome or result, and you firmly believe what you are about to say is in his best interest, then everything about your body language, voice and wording becomes about the benefit to him, and not about you.

Preparation is key

It can be just as damaging to give feedback that’s ill-thought-out and unplanned as it is to not give feedback at all.

For this reason, it’s beneficial to write some notes to ensure clarity in your own mind as to exactly what your message to John is.

A useful structure to help you prepare is:

  • Actions: What are the actions/behaviours (or lack of) that you are observing which make up the feedback message?
    • Use specific examples rather than generalised observations.
    • Avoid judgemental adjectives that may instigate a defensive response (e.g. aggressive, lazy, etc.)
  • Impacts: What is the impact on them as a result of these actions or behaviours. The most powerful are those that affect them directly.
    • You can also consider other impacts on you, other colleagues, customers, the business, etc.
  • Desired Outcome: What are the actions or behaviours that are you suggesting that you would like to see them demonstrate instead of what they are currently doing.
    • Be clear and specific about what you are suggesting they do differently
    • Remember there may be blockers preventing this outcome such as confidence, capability, resources, etc.

The key point is to ensure clarity for you in terms of what they are doing, why it’s important, and what they could be doing differently.

If you’re not clear on these messages, it will be impossible to ensure that they are clear on them.

The likelihood of them changing anything in this situation, therefore, becomes ever more remote. It’s also likely to increase frustration for both parties and likely damage the relationship going forward.

You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge

It’s important to get the recipient of feedback to understand and acknowledge all your messages. If they don’t, it’s almost certain that they won’t change anything unless they are ‘forced’ which isn’t a sustainable strategy.

Firstly, consider how to get John to acknowledge that he needs to listen to your feedback. This requires you to consider things from his perspective and what he values most. If you know what’s important to him, you can focus the conversation on helping to achieve that.

Some examples of what people typically value are:

  • Money: Earning more of it, or saving it.
  • Time: Saving it, getting some of it back.
  • Stress: Reducing it and getting peace of mind.
  • Reputation & Status: Improving it.

If your feedback is linked to one of their values, you’ve given them a good reason to listen and take that on board.

Delivering Your Feedback

Before you give your feedback, it’s important to remember some basic principles in conducting the conversation:

  1. Always have the conversation in private. Giving unsolicited advice in front of someone’s colleagues can embarrass them and cause them to shut off from listening to what you have to say.
  2. Decide whether to arrange a meeting specifically for the feedback or add it to the agenda of another meeting.
  3. Be prepared for a response, and possibly to hear some feedback about yourself in return. It may be that you are responsible for blockers preventing your feedback from being actioned.

Framing the conversation properly gets the person to be as open-minded as possible and can re-enforce your willingness to help. Without proper framing, the conversation risks being seen as negative criticism.

Good framing has two essential components:

  • What specifically is the conversation about?
  • What is the benefit to the recipient to hear it and act on it?

This, combined with your preparation, for example, gives you:

“Hi John, I want to talk to you about the client presentation you gave this morning because I really want to help you to get greater impact with the audience, and improve your sales conversion rate.”

The difference between this and the fear-inducing framing we started with is staggering. As a recipient, John is much more likely to be receptive to what you have to say and to take your feedback on board.

By following these steps, you’re now in a better position to give your feedback and have increased the likelihood of your feedback being taken on board.