Thursday 5 December 2019

Gina London: 'Closing the distance to deliver useful feedback'

Not only is it more effective if you are in the same room as the person to whom you are giving feedback, but it also helps if your feedback is delivered in proximity to the action or project which you are describing. Stock image
Not only is it more effective if you are in the same room as the person to whom you are giving feedback, but it also helps if your feedback is delivered in proximity to the action or project which you are describing. Stock image

Gina London

Moments after she left home for school on her skateboard, my daughter Lulu returned and knocked at the door. She had fallen when her wheels hit a small patch of gravel. She was shaken, but only suffered a small scrape to her chin. She agreed to go back to school - if I drove her.

"I need to rewind and be close to you for a moment, mommy," she explained.

Ah, proximity. One of the most vital aspects of becoming a purposeful communicator is to remember the importance of proximity.

What do I mean? I mean that despite today's tech-driven communications world, up close and personal is still preferable.

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Don't send a text or email if you can have a phone call. Don't have that phone call if you can meet your intended audience face to face.

Former Harvard leadership fellow and author Nick Morgan writes in his most recent book, Can You Hear Me?, that "virtual communication breeds misunderstanding because it deprives us of the emotional knowledge that helps us better-connect". Indeed. Proximity matters a great deal.

Likewise, when it comes to providing productive and meaningful feedback, one of the most critical components in this communications process is captured by that same important word, albeit with an additional layer.

Not only is it more effective if you are in the same room as the person to whom you are giving feedback, but it also helps if your feedback is delivered in proximity to the action or project which you are describing.

1 Provide immediate feedback

Nanna Tolborg, my friend, communications colleague and senior chief consultant at Denmark's premier change management firm, Promentum, states: "The most common mistake in giving feedback is that people deliver feedback from too far a distance away from the practice in question.

"Take the annual review, for instance. If you ask an employee to reflect across an entire year, many people will talk off the top of their head and aren't properly prepared, or they'll focus on one thing they feel really successful about that doesn't need feedback."

This same risky 'distant recall' can occur with 360 reviews and nearly every form of employee development conversation.

We think we can travel back in time and remember. But we cannot.

To really create positive behaviour changes, feedback must be provided immediately.

Nanna adds: "This requires you to set aside time to give or receive feedback - which is often difficult if your day is packed. You will need to prioritise and slot in feedback time between meetings."

2 Provide precise feedback

Before you offer feedback, Nanna suggests you and the person you are working with agree upon which of three main feedback areas you will target.

The first area centres on the product or the task. Did you understand what you were to do and did you achieve your goal?

The second area is the process. How did you organise or structure your work or facilitate meetings?

Finally, the third major area to focus on involves interactions. How did you communicate to, or co-operate with, your colleagues?

"Be specific in your feedback," encourages Nanna. "If you say, 'you're doing a good job' or 'you're good at co-operating', it doesn't really help. Because I don't know exactly what I'm doing right so I can't repeat it."

3 Don't turn feedback into therapy

Provide an objective observation and do not jump to conclusions. For instance, you're a manager and you witness Sarah withdraw an idea she suggests during a meeting after Ben quickly voices his criticism.

If you take Sarah aside, you could say something like, 'I saw you pull back when Ben challenged you. Why was that?'.

But do not say something like, 'I saw you pull back when Ben challenged you. Do you have problems with your self-esteem?'.

Nanna emphasises: "Stay on your own side of the playing field. Be explicit with what you observe. Be transparent with how it made you feel. Then be curious about the other person's perspective. Ask questions like, 'what did you want to achieve?' and 'what was your intended outcome?'. Often, the person getting the feedback will make their own conclusions, and discover the changes they are actually able and willing to try to make on their own."

4 Your feedback perspective is one of many

Nanna concludes with her pig perspective story which describes how differently the farmer, the butcher and the vegan view a pig.

"What you observe and how you interpret any situation is to help the other person see how the task, process or relationship looks from your unique vantage point," she says.

Feedback is about helping people to succeed in what they are doing.

When we're younger, it may take the form of feedback between mother and child, but as we grow older, we still need it from our co-workers and managers.

Intentional and positive feedback can give us energy, self-confidence and motivation to be seen and appreciated for who we are and what we can do.

Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie

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