Feedback is a skill, and great leaders are intentional about how they deliver it. They know that for feedback to lead to higher levels of performance, it must be given properly.
But what does properly given feedback look like? Here are five tips to apply to your next feedback conversation. Whether you’re delivering feedback to a leader, a direct report, or a coworker, these techniques will help you offer constructive criticism that leads to positive outcomes.
1. Understand Whose Choice It Is to Implement the Feedback
People assume that if they give someone feedback, the receiver is obligated to do something with it. Instead, feedback should be considered a gift, not an expectation of immediate change — or any change at all. No matter how specific the feedback is, how sincerely it is delivered, or how relevant the feedback is to the receiver, it is still the choice of the receiver as to whether they will do anything with it.
2. Be Clear on Whose Needs Are Being Met When Giving Feedback
The effectiveness of feedback is reduced when you assume that the receiver needs to hear the feedback. Ask yourself the following questions to determine whether you have the receiver’s interests in mind before giving feedback:
- Why do I need to give this person feedback?
- Is it my role to give this person feedback?
- Is it because of my needs that I am attempting influence this person’s behavior?
- Do I desire a behavior change because it will make me happy?
- Am I delivering the feedback because I truly believe the receiver can perform better?
- What emotional needs of mine will be met just by giving the feedback, no matter what the receiver does with the feedback?
If you sense that only your needs are being met by giving the feedback, you should probably rethink the feedback. Feedback should only be given when it will clearly benefit the receiver.
3. Set the Context of Your Feedback
People want the feedback they receive to be personally relevant. Feedback that seems to be coming from left field or unrelated to the task at hand may cause frustration or even distrust.
Feedback should always be delivered in the context of trying to achieve an outcome or goal that was agreed upon by both parties. This type of feedback is not only received more openly, but it also builds trust and respect for the person giving the feedback. Clearly relevant feedback is also more likely to produce higher performance.
4. Prepare Beforehand
In addition to relevance, people expect feedback to be of high quality — that is, the feedback should offer important information that can help the receiver overcome challenges or otherwise progress toward their goal.
For best results, you should put some effort in to prepare your feedback ahead of time. Some steps you might want to take include:
- Focusing on an agreed upon goal, project, or outcome
- Gathering relevant information on the individual’s progress toward the goal
- Assessing the needs of the individual to whom you are preparing to give feedback and determining whether your feedback is aligned with their knowledge and abilities
- Keeping the desired outcome in mind without getting lost in the details of all of the urgent tasks related to making progress on the goal
5. Be Descriptive
Most people believe that good feedback is judgmental — that it evaluates a person’s performance. In reality, the best feedback is observational. It focuses on describing objective, verifiable details of the past performance or behaviors of the person receiving the feedback.
“Pure feedback,” as it is called, sticks to just the facts and nothing more. This approach allows the receiver to examine the facts without having to process any emotions that can be stirred up by judgment and evaluation.
An example of pure feedback:
“According to the latest updates you’ve generated, you have submitted three of the five reports that you’ve committed to complete by the end of this quarter. I’ve noticed that of the three reports you’ve submitted, two of them appear to be incomplete. According to our timeline, you have two months left to submit all five completed reports.”
Once you’ve delivered this pure feedback, take a moment to ensure the receiver understands your message. Ask them to repeat back what you said. If their perception matches your intended message, the feedback has been received properly.
If their perception does not match your intended message, review the facts, available data, and goals. Discuss any motivational issues or roadblocks the receiver may be facing. Together, you can work on a plan to help the receiver progress toward their goal.
In a knowledge-based economy, it is more important than ever to deliver quality feedback that helps individuals grow, learn, and thrive. Quality feedback is an essential but underdeveloped skill among many leaders in today’s workplace. By following these five tips, you will be able give more valuable, engaging feedback that produces results.
A version of this article originally appeared on Inspire Software.
Dr. Drea Zigarmi is a strategic advisor to Inspire Software.