Very few aspects of a managerial job are held in such dread as the feedback session. Most of us have experienced that awful hour or so when there is a total absence of communication. As George Bernard Shaw once said “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” So, let’s have a look at some ways that feedback sessions can be more productive.
Build respect and trust
When there is no trust you can give an employee feedback until the cows come home, but it won’t do any good and it may well do a lot of harm. Let’s be honest, when we don’t really respect someone who is trying to give feedback, we tune out completely. It may be necessary to remain in the room physically, but we leave it mentally. We think about little Jean’s latest school report or the game of tennis we had last weekend. We are miles away in our thoughts, so we just sit there and keep our mouths (and more importantly, our ears) closed. As a good employee we’ll maybe nod our head once in a while, possibly even take a few notes, but in reality the feedback session has failed.
The essential prerequisite then to successful feedback is ensuring that there is an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect between the parties.
Negative feedback outweighs positive feedback by a factor of 6 to 1
However much time you spend praising an employee all this good work can be destroyed with one ill-thought-out criticism. Research has found that employees react to a negative interaction with their boss six times more strongly than they react to a positive interaction. This suggests that negative feedback can have a significant detrimental effect in an employee’s productivity. But of course sometimes it is necessary to give criticism, so how should this be done without causing too much damage?
In the first place, choose your feedback carefully. Is the criticism you are about to give absolutely necessary? Let’s take one example to illustrate the point. Your young employee has submitted a draft report which in general addresses all the issues and draws a clear conclusion but as an experienced manager you would have written the document slightly differently. Do you communicate these improvements to the employee or not? Well, what would you do? I think it depends on two factors. Firstly are the changes of consequence? Secondly, can you communicate the revisions as suggestions and not corrections. In any event try to avoid at all costs striking through with a red pen!
Don’t lose sight of the reason for feedback
There will be, of course, times in every manager’s career when there is no alternative to giving negative feedback. However, even on these occasions, do not forget that the reason for giving feedback is to improve performance. However justified you feel and however satisfying it may be, shaming an employee, either privately or in front of colleagues, is likely to adversely affect your business. Negative feedback is a key tool in the manager’s toolbox. Use it wisely and carefully! Shift the focus from past errors to potential future improvements. The key to success is to appeal to the calm, rational part of the employee’s brain and avoid the defensive, emotional part.
You can not over praise
Most managers that you speak to will say that they are exceptional at praising achievement by their team. It is also a fact that most team members, when asked, will say that their boss does not sufficiently value his or her achievements or hard work. Praise should be bestowed generously, publicly and at every opportunity, and particularly at the culmination of a project. If you show your employees sincerely how much they are appreciated you will start to earn their respect and trust, ensuring that when the time comes for giving negative feedback you will have dollars in the bank.
Take into consideration
The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place: when we don’t really respect someone who is trying to give feedback, we tune out completely.
Ensuring that there is an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect: good work can be destroyed with one ill-thought-out criticism.
Negative feedback can have a significant detrimental effect on an employee’s productivity: choose your feedback carefully.
Is the criticism you are about to give absolutely necessary?: can you communicate the revisions as suggestions and not corrections.
Do not forget that the reason for giving feedback is to improve performance: Praise should be bestowed generously, publicly and at every opportunity.
Tips that will help you give productive feedback
- Create a safe environment where the employee feels comfortable
- Be predominantly positive
- Be specific, avoid ambiguity
- Be immediate
- Be tough not mean