Mastering the Art of Giving Feedback

Tis the season and this dreaded word is on everyone’s mind…Feedback. Like it or loathe it, feedback is a part of daily corporate life and there is no hiding from it. Be it 360 feedback, real-time feedback, informal feedback or any other form the constant challenge we all face is to keep it constructive without diluting our point of view.

I had the good fortune of starting my career in a senior management fast track programme with a Swiss company where new graduates were trained to be managers. No starting from the bottom from us, we went straight to managing complex projects and nurturing talent with rigorous on-the-job learning. The benefit of such a programme is that one is prescriptively taught even things that are considered simple such as “Giving Feedback”. It appears to be a simple enough exercise which is to be done once a year whereas in actual fact it is much more delicate and complicated than that.

Below I outline three key points I picked up in my time at this esteemed programme:

Stick to the Facts

Effective feedback is facts, facts and nothing else. Human memory is fascinating, once an event is experienced it is translated into a version that the mind finds suitable. This means that when at the end of the year one sits down to write vertical or horizontal feedback we are operating from impressions and not facts. However, when it comes to feedback it is imperative to avoid impressions. Anything that begins with I think or I feel must be seriously examined in your own mind for relevance.

Fact based feedback is based on things you observe and notice. You will thank yourself when the time comes as you will have all the facts to hand preferably with dates and can use as much or as little as necessary.

Its All in the Words

The Buddhist quote “Words have the power to both destroy and heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change our world” holds as true to feedback as it does to life. Oftentimes something is meant with the best intentions but may not be phrased suitably which destroys its impact irreparably. Words once spoken, create a lasting impression in the other person’s mind and cannot be explained, revoked or altered.

On the flip side, the harshest feedback can be communicated in the kindest way possible when one is determined to do so. People say that to assess the kindness in the spoken word, assess how you would feel if someone said it to you. I don’t necessarily agree with that. I think one ought to think of it as a third person, imagine listening to those words as an impartial third party. If it feels inappropriate as an unconcerned third party, chances are it is definitely inappropriate as a participant in the situation.

A Way Forward

Whether you are someone’s manager, colleague or team member, if you have assumed responsibility of sharing something the other person needs to work on you also need to offer a solution or way forward. A corporate environment needs to be cooperative which means that offering an unsavoury opinion is simply not enough. You need to be a part of the solution. This differentiates the average from the extraordinary.

Think about what the other person could possibly do to fix it and how you can offer your help in a larger capacity than just giving more feedback. Offer active help with locating someone that can coach them, become a learning partner or even something as simple as celebrating every small victory on the path of improvement. Get involved and make a difference.

Broadly the art of giving feedback is knowing that what is obvious to you is not obvious to someone else and to express that effectively with impact and kindness is what will set you apart.