How To Give Feedback Without Giving Offence
Managers and leaders are often nervous about giving feedback to others for fear of upsetting them and being disliked. Employees are equally fearful of being criticized unjustly. When feedback goes wrong, it leads to hurt feelings and can quickly escalate into a fully-fledged argument.
However, when feedback is provided effectively, this is good for both the person giving the feedback and the person receiving the feedback.
Feedback differs from praise and criticism
Feedback differs from praise and criticism. Both praise and criticism are focused on the other person and considered a one-way dialogue. For instance, You did a good job today or I like the way you handled that situation by being calm would be considered praise. I don’t like the way you ran the meeting today or what you are wearing is inappropriate for a networking event would be considered criticism.
You can see the person providing the praise or criticism in this case is not expecting a conversation.
Feedback on the other hand is an invitation to enter into a two-way discussion. Feedback given effectively is usually used to correct or improve performance. It is based on two-way communication and usually leads to an action plan or follow up of some description.
Two types of feedback
There are two types of feedback, redirection and reinforcement.
Redirection feedback corrects poor performance, highlight areas for improvement that adds value to the individual or in a work environment, improvement in a business unit.
Reinforcement feedback reinforces good practices and behaviors that also adds value to an individual or your business unit.
Giving effective feedback
Most people’s experience with feedback is being criticized or told what they said or did was wrong, which causes anxiety in others. The most important feedback you can give to someone is positive feedback, as it reinforces the behaviors you want to continue to see.
Effective feedback should:
- Be supported by facts and evidence and not based solely on opinion or emotions.
- Focus on a tangible act or behavior, not a poor attitude. Attitude is an opinion and should be handled through the coaching process.
- Be specific; don’t use phrases like “you never…” or “you always…”
- Be goal-oriented and future-based.
- Take place as soon as possible after you have observed the behavior that needs correcting.
- Not be done in front of others, unless they too are learning a new skill.
- Be supported by a follow-up action plan.
- Be a two-way conversation.
- Be a positive experience.
Sometimes, you must give feedback that will not be positive, especially when it relates to an employee’s performance.
How to give feedback about performance
- Outline the performance that needs attention.
- Explain how the existing level of performance is causing concern and how it impacts the business.
- Ask questions to find out if there are any mitigating circumstances for the current performance (there may be personal issues you are unaware of such as divorce or serious illness).
- Ask them if they have any suggestions how they could improve performance.
- Ask if they need help, training, or resources to improve their performance.
- Ask what else you can do to help them succeed.
- Agree on an action plan with a date to follow up.
A simple acronym for giving effective feedback is BEER.
|B||Behavior||Focus on the behavior you are trying to reinforce or correct. Be specific and don’t use sweeping statements like “You always….|
|E||Effect||Explain the effect their performance or actions had on executing the task or the goals and objectives of your organization.|
|E||Expectations||Explain what your expectations are and have them reinforce their understanding of your expectations.|
|R||Result||Explain what results you expect. You may have to revisit their position description outlining Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).|
Most people find criticism hard to take. It has a tendency to make you nervous about giving feedback. As a result you might even avoid it altogether. You might try to be nice about it, but the risk is the message gets watered down. Alternatively, the criticism is so harsh and confronting, the other person feels attacked, which causes the relationship to break down.
There is balance between giving criticism assertively, so it’s taken seriously, and making the message strong enough without putting others on the defensive. You want to be soft on the person but tough on the issue.
Giving constructive feedback or criticism
Put them at ease
When you must meet with an employee who has made a mistake, put them at ease immediately to reduce the anxiety. The best way to do this is to begin with praise supported by evidence. Choose something the employee has done or said well that you have observed that is specific. Give them feedback using the following formula.
- The fact you feel good about their behavior
- What you felt good about
- Why you feel good about it
I am (pleased, satisfied, impressed) that you ………. which makes me feel (a lack of confidence, full of admiration, have trust in your ability to…)
Allow the praise to sink in. Good will and trust in an employee is built up over time. By beginning with praise, you are far more likely to preserve the relationship if it’s a relationship you wish to preserve.
Relate to the situation
The second step in giving feedback or criticism is to focus on the problem, not the person. Once the employee has been put at ease, you can now relate back to the situation you are not happy about. Give them feedback using a similar formula.
- The fact you feel bad
- What you feel bad about
- Why you feel bad about it
“I am (concerned, frustrated, alarmed) that you ………. which makes me feel (uneasy, worried, stressed).”
Notice that the focus is on the behavior, not the person.
Allow them to respond
The next step is to give the employee a chance to respond. The goal is to gather the facts and get their perspective. There may be extenuating circumstances you are unaware of. It may be a lack of training or the employee wasn’t inducted properly. There may be personal problems you were unaware of.
“Would you please give me some insight what led to this (situation, behavior)?”
Listen carefully to understand if the employee is looking to blame someone or something else or is taking responsibility for their actions.
Restore the performance
Your objective is to remedy the problem, restore satisfactory performance, and stop the situation from happening again. If the employee is looking to blame and avoid responsibility, this may indicate an attitude problem, in which case you would handle this differently. This may involve coaching, mentoring, or even formal performance management. The important thing is to make sure the employee understands the expectations of the role and the standards that must be met. This is why Key Performance Indicators are essential when managing performance.
If the employee accepts responsibility, then you can plan the next steps accordingly. They may need further training, or you may coach the employee, depending on what stage they are at. If they are at the beginning of the coaching cycle, you may need to tell them how to remedy the situation. If they are towards the end of the coaching cycle, you would ask them how they would remedy the situation.
Reassure the employee
At this stage, focus on reassuring the employee of their value and importance to the business. If you put yourself in the employee’s shoes, criticism might knock their confidence, and they may feel like they failed. If the employee takes responsibility for their behavior, you want them to leave the meeting reassured that the problem is easy to remedy. If the employee avoids the issue and blames others, you want them to leave with clear performance expectations.
Throughout the process, pay careful attention to how the employee is responding to both the praise and the criticism. If your praise is genuine, honest, and specific, the employee is more likely to receive the criticism in the same manner.
The purpose of feedback is to improve performance or change behaviors not to destroy confidence. Therefore:
- Never reprimand an employee in front of others.
- Don’t take sides too quickly in a conflict. Your job is to remain objective and independent at all times.
- Create a culture of us and we as opposed to an I environment.
- Don’t assume you have all the answers. Listen to the opinions of your employees and ask for feedback
- Not all employees are motivated by the same things. Get to know them to understand what makes them tick.
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