By Yvonne Milosevic
Good feedback, at its heart, is meant to help someone improve. Yet we often struggle when giving feedback, so we try to avoid the chore altogether. If it’s your job to assess others, remember that often, how you say it matters more than what you say.
Ellen Taaffe, associate professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management, is an expert on this subject. She recently chatted about improving feedback delivery on Kellogg’s The Insightful Leader podcast. If this is a weak area for you, use Taaffe’s three “rules” to help you nail the task of giving good feedback in 2022.
Rule #1: Make it a habit to give feedback frequently.
If you only offer thoughts on how an employee can improve at their annual performance evaluation, or after an obvious mistake, it can feel like an ambush. Instead, says Taaffe, provide feedback on an ongoing basis. That way, the employee always knows what they’re doing well and where or how they can improve.
“You’re modeling and practicing a culture of just continuously trying to get better,” Taaffe says. “And It’s not that sort of episodic, ‘oh, no. What does this mean? I’m about to hear something I don’t want to hear’.”
Rule #2: Clarity is critical.
Giving feedback is agonizing for some people. So, they dance around the subject or sugarcoat their message to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. Later, they wonder whether the person fully understood the issue that needs improvement.
“On our way to trying to be nice and fair and not insulting to someone, sometimes we’re not clear,” says Taaffe.
You can avoid misunderstandings and uncertainty by conveying your critique with clarity. Also, make sure your feedback is actionable. Finally, “At the end of a discussion, ask them, ‘what do you take away from our conversation?’ as a way to hear what they heard,” Taaffe suggests.
Rule #3: Give feedback in person if possible.
Although remote working arrangements may make this a challenge right now, try to meet face-to-face when providing feedback. After all, body language subconsciously conveys a lot of our message, so in-person or a video call is best.
“The more you can see faces and expressions and even hear voices, the better you can understand how it’s being received,” Taaffe explains. “That’s far better than feedback that is on email or slack.”
If you can’t do an in-person meeting, the next best thing is a phone call. As we’ve noted before, vocal cues are often more useful conveyers of emotion than facial expressions. Something in our voice gives greater insight into our mental state than our body language does.
To sum up, if you need to give feedback, these three tips will help you get better at the task. Make it a regular habit, get to the point quickly, and try to do it in person if possible. These impactful but straightforward techniques will help you foster a work environment where everyone feels empowered to do their best.