How to give and receive feedback

One thing that I really struggled with when I became a Manager, was learning how to give effective, constructive feedback so that it was positively and rationally understood rather than looking like I was bashing someone for their incompetence or other issues. The way that I learned how to do this was through practice but also through making feedback a regular part of our working life. It was not something that I did every year, but rather as an continuous process of improvement throughout the year.

Giving GOOD feedback, can really be an art form and it’s something that I would like to share with you today. When you are giving feedback, you need to be aware of a few things:

  1. Why are you giving the feedback?
  2. When are you giving the feedback
  3. How are you giving the feedback?

All of the above is critical to ensuring that the Feedback will be succesfully received. There’s a lot of emotions around feedback/reviews so I try to make sure that it’s just a regular part of our project and daily work. Within my teams, I try to encourage the Agile principle, fail fast and fail often so that we can look proactively during our work towards retrospections, improvements and personal development.

Most recently, we have done this as part of our team retrospective. I started off the discussion like this:

  • Today, we’re going to spend 30 minutes look back at the past two weeks and look at what we’ve done well, what we can improve on and what you might need support on in the next month. I would also appreciate feedback for myself on how I can improve and make your working life easier.
    • What did I do?
      1. I gave them a time focus to think about [The last two weeks]
      2. I timeboxed it [We’re going to spend 30 minutes]
      3. I asked them to think about the positive / negative and where they need help [what we’ve done well/can improve on/need support with]
      4. I’ve asked for feedback for myself and asked them to focus that feedback in two specific areas. You can choose/amend these for yourself [I chose: What I need to improve and what I can do to make their life easier]

Frame your feedback

I would recommend looking at how you are giving feedback. Depending on the type of feedback, you should consider when you give the feedback (e.g. team meeting vs. 1-1) as well as how the feedback is framed. I will always try and present feedback in a positive, constructive way that can help the person improve rather than just give them a list of everything that they’ve done wrong.

To do this, I would recommend being: SPECIFIC. Be specific with the feedback. This could be through using examples or going into detail about a specific event.

Focus!

When you’re giving the feedback, that person should be your priority. So focus on giving them the attention that they need and deserve. I would also recommend that when you’re giving feedback, you make it personal. An example could be: I feel that your behaviour has been quite distruptive in the last few weeks and I feel that you’re not being supportive of your Junior colleagues by raising faults in front of the client.

Do it often!

How many times have you received feedback from your bosses or peers about something that happened months ago? Does it feel useful? or does it feel like it’s dragging up old news? When I’m running my projects, I try to ensure that I’m giving feedback on a regular basis. This could be through retrospectives, but also considering updates that you may be having on a regular basis. To know which format is best, you need to consider the following:

  • What feedback are you giving?
    • Is it appropriate to give it in a team meeting / 1-1?
  • What’s the personality of the person that you’re giving feedback to? How do they like to receive feedback
    • You can ask them this question if you’re unsure
  • Is it the right time?
    • Whilst you need to ensure that the feedback is given in a timely manner, if the topic is very emotive or likely to be a result of a difficult event, you should wait until everyone has calmed down to deliver it in the most effective way

I tend to start feedback by giving the person a reason for why we’re talking today, what we’re going to talk about and why it’s important for us on the project.

Should you be the one giving the feedback?

This is perhaps a tricky question to answer but there is some feedback which should only be given by a direct manager/ HR professional and whilst reviewing the feedback that you are giving, you should consider whether or not you should be the one to do it at all. I have several times given formal development feedback to their Manager to be used in a performance review but also as a discussion point in a more informal feedback loop. The feedback can still come from me but because it’s channeled through a Manager, the reception of the feedback may be different.

Conclusion:

Giving feedback can be really difficult for some leaders. If you find yourself struggling, remember:

  • When should you be giving feedback?
  • What’s the plan for giving them feedback?
  • Why are they getting this feedback?

I would strongly recommend making feedback a positive and regular part of your project or working activities so that you can practice how to do it but also by taking away the stigma of ‘negativity’ when it comes to feedback.

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