This past week, I received a lot of feedback about how to provide effective feedback.
In particular, last Tuesday, after leading a workshop in which I expanded upon the tips I shared with you last week in this column, the discussion became lively. It seemed to me that every one of the sixty or so participants seated in the conference room of the exquisite Andaz hotel in Prague was nearly bursting with a follow-up question or comment.
I believe that’s because when you are striving to create a trusting, encouraging workplace culture like my participants clearly were committed to so doing, landing feedback that constructs or course corrects and simultaneously enriches the relationship between manager and feedback recipient can be a challenge.
So, I think it’s worth spending more time today analysing the topic of feedback. I’ll present in Q&A fashion the questions raised during our discussion.
Q. What do you do if a manager walks up and announces they want to give you some feedback, but you’re not ready to receive it?
A. I wrote last week that it’s preferable to provide feedback in close proximity to the event in question as the memories of both you as a manager and that of the employee are fresher around what occurred. However, apply some emotional intelligence before you make a move.
If your employee forgot half the planned content they were supposed to deliver in their presentation, it’s probably not a good idea to remind them to spend more time rehearsing immediately after they finished. They know they bombed. I’d suggest you provide compassion before the candour.
Likewise, if you’re that employee and you see the boss walking toward you and immediately feel your pulse race at the thought of them offering feedback you’re just not ready to digest, I urge you to be honest and politely ask for some time to collect yourself.
The receiver needs to have the proper headspace in order to best receive feedback and successfully commit to applying the necessary adjustments.
Q. How do you handle emotional triggers that may set off when you tell an employee you’d like to schedule a “feedback session”?
A. Scheduling a generic “feedback session,” is bound to set off the alarm bells in anyone. I encourage you to be as specific as possible about the issue in your scheduling subject line to narrow the focus and hopefully reduce anxiety so your employee can prepare substantively and emotionally.
Q. What if I’m in a hurry and I just want to offer my advice or direction and not waste time asking a lot of open-ended discovery questions designed to generate self-awareness and solution discovery from the employee I manage?
A. If you are busy rushing around doling out quick reactions and advice, you are at risk of creating an over-dependent and less autonomous group of employees. By taking time to prepare, you are investing in your team’s self-development and helping them become less dependent upon you.
Q. What if I observe a situation between two team members that I believe warrants feedback, but I think maybe it would be better for them to discuss and resolve the issue between themselves?
A. As a manager, if you observe an interaction between two employees that merits feedback, don’t let it go. You don’t need to stage an intervention but do bring them in individually in order to learn, what, if anything, was resolved between them. Depending on what you learn, you may need to bring them both in together to discuss and explore the interaction further.
Q. Is it ever helpful to provide direct, blunt feedback?
A. Yes, it can be in certain circumstances. Sometimes direct is required - especially if the correction involves an oversight that needs immediate attention. Being short and to the point can also be effective for course correction if the infraction is very minor and easy to repair. But I would almost always hesitate to be “blunt.” That word implies the sharp tone of a reprimand which is not the same as providing constructive feedback. Even if mistakes were made, the tone of voice a leader chooses to speak with should still be filled with compassion.
Q. How do I best action feedback?
A. Manager and employee should agree upon definite next steps. “I’ll do better next time,” is not specific enough. It’s too vague and difficult to measure. Define one or two small, yet tangible and trackable steps that can be taken.
Naturally, it would be great if there were a fixed set of established feedback rules which seamlessly worked for every and any occasion. That would make leading a team so much easier, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, workplace situations and employees are as complex as the businesses and human being of which they are comprised.
The best approach I can offer is to understand as wide of a range of tools as possible to help allow you to prepare, rehearse and accelerate your real-time decision making during the course of each unique feedback experience.
And finally, since I was in Prague, as I wrap up today’s column, dear readers, please allow me to leave you with the paraphrased words of the former president of the Czech Republic, poet Vaclav Havel: “Follow the one who seeks the truth. Run from the one who claims to have found it.”
I proclaim myself only a dedicated seeker. I hope the more we explore and apply positive role model leadership techniques aiming to better communicate and connect, the closer we can get to discovering the truth. Together.
Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie. With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor.