“What is the shortest word in the English language that contains the letters: abcdef? Answer: feedback. Don’t forget that feedback is one of the essential elements of good communication”.

Feedback is part of everyday life. It is given in the formal sense in a work environment; however, conversely it is also given and received everyday in personal and casual settings.

Feedback is giving someone an opinion, comment or advice. The ability to give this in a valuable and useful way is paramount to whether the receiver will actually take the comments on board and therefore make the feedback effective.

In this article, we will concentrate on the area of workplace feedback and in particular the manager’s role in this equation, as it is vital to interpersonal relationships in an organisation for this to be straightforward and valuable.

Most of the time managers do not give effective feedback mainly because they don’t know how to. On the whole, they have become managers based on their technical skills not on their people management skills. Therefore when they do give their feedback, it is often sloppy and very unproductive. This is one of the main reasons for employee dissatisfaction.

However, with a few simple steps and some basic knowledge, managers can go a long way toward making even the most negative feedback effective.

Here are 10 steps to take into account when giving feedback in the workplace:

1) Preparation is the Key: Put in some time and thought into the process of preparing your feedback. Speak to others (discreetly if required) so as to collect concrete examples to illustrate points that will be discussed. The majority of the time no examples are given to demonstrate the feedback and this leaves a weak argument. Also adequately brief the employee.

Speak to them and make sure they have clear expectations about the nature of the meeting and ask the employee to prepare by setting their own objectives. This way a solid discussion can be engaged and support can be given to the employee to move forward.

2) Feedback Needs to be About Work Performance:  This means it has to be something the person does or says that affects the quality of their work. It mustn’t be about the employees’ values or beliefs or even based on the manager’s values or beliefs.  It needs to be professional in nature, not personal. This is why being specific is so necessary – you can focus on the behaviour that can be changed rather than on the personality. Examples in this situation are so essential.

They help the employee to understand their behaviour and it supports the manager in their argument.  Without examples, the feedback is not as valid as it is only a point of view or a perception.  Remain optimistic and lead with positive feedback and then deliver the constructive feedback.  Even the most negative feedback can be diluted to show it in a positive and supportive framework for the employee.

3) Choose an Appropriate Time & Place: Sometimes managers give feedback just as they or the employee are going home or taking their lunch break. This is inappropriate and usually leads to rushed or careless feedback because both parties are typically in a hurry.  Set a time in advance that is convenient to both individuals. Allow plenty of time for discussion. If possible go and have a coffee together. This makes the atmosphere relaxed and less formal. 

If this is not possible then at the very least it needs to be in a room where the door can be closed and no one else can listen in. Choose according to what makes the employee comfortable and suitable to the work environment culture.  And most importantly, turn off your mobile phone, hold your calls and ensure that you are not interrupted.

4) Show Respect and Appreciation: A lot of the time managers only think about giving the feedback without actually considering that they are giving this to a person and as such the feedback needs to be given with care and understanding. Therefore, choose your words carefully and deliver them in a calm and thoughtful way. Only use “I” statements – “I feel that…’ “I believe that…” “I sense that…” 

This makes the comments less accusatory and critical.  The employee will more likely accept and take the comments on board compared to if you were to say “You are not performing very well in your role at the moment.  What’s the matter with you?”  More importantly, remember to be balanced and fair and to give some positive feedback as well.

5) Explain, Ask and Listen: Explain why you are having this discussion and why this is an issue. Link it to the employee’s role, the expectations of this role and how it affects the team. Remember we are talking about the behaviour not the person.

Start off with a piece of positive feedback with the negative in the middle and end the conversation on a positive (sandwich scenario). People always remember the first and last things said.

Make it a two-way conversation. Bring the employee into the discussion, after all it is about them and they need to be proactive in solving the issue. Mainly the managers do all the talking and the employee is left feeling overwhelmed with the information being given and unheard because they haven’t been supported in giving their point of view.
Listen to and hear their view without pre-judging. The manager doesn’t need to say anything to their comments other than “thanks for your comments, I will take them on board and give them some thought.”

Be understanding, open and empathic. Ask for feedback yourself on how you handled giving the feedback.  It shows you are willing to learn and improve and at the same time, it is an opportunity to build bridges and show that you are both in this together. The employee will feel supported and will more likely put in an effort to change their behaviour.

6) Accept Some of the Responsibility: Most of the time, the employee will not be purposefully putting in a poor performance. There could be a number of reasons for this.  They may not know exactly what they are supposed to be doing, they may be having personal issues, have too many responsibilities, lack of direction or training and so on.

If the manager comes out and says something like “maybe I didn’t explain this up front, maybe we didn’t give you sufficient training, maybe the deadline was unrealistic, I apologise…” it automatically creates a relief on the part of the employee and they will more likely open up.
It is not placing blame solely with the employee.  When this happens the employee will most likely tell you want the problem is and be proactive in helping to solve it which leads to the next point.

7) Solve the Problem Together: Ask the other person for suggestions. What do they think?  Do they have any ideas? This way the employee is taking on some responsibility.  They probably know some solutions because they are in the middle of the situation and therefore what they have to say is relevant. If they don’t have any reasonable suggestions then propose a solution or new process or behaviour. Ask them what they think about this.

Offer them support about how they can implement this suggestion if it is the employee’s responsibility. Do they need some more training; do they need to put an action plan together? Ask the employee, “how can I support you in this regard?” And then keep up your end of the bargain. If you don’t, the employee will most likely not keep up their end.

8) Agree on Issues: At the end of the discussion ensure you both agree and you are both on the same wavelength. If there is disagreement then make sure you go over the issue again and give facts and examples until the employee agrees. If the person agrees with the facts but disagrees that it is a problem, provide the consequences for their actions if they continue.

Confirm agreements in writing after the session and always follow through and honour these agreements.

9) Be persistent: You may need to give feedback on the same issue more than once. It may take the employee some time to fully grasp the situation and adjust their behaviour.  However with support and consistent feedback the employee will eventually succeed if they want to do.

10) Follow-up: Agree on a review date and make sure it happens. This gives the employee accountability and shows that you are serious with the implementation. It also shows the employee that they are being supported and given the boundaries to change.

The above following points illustrate how simple it can be to give feedback. When given appropriately, it can be effective and empower the employee to develop and enhance their behaviour. Most managers are afraid of giving feedback and this has more to do with them than the employee. Managers need to get past this and approach the situation as a positive learning experience for both parties involved.

The manager doesn’t need to have automatic answers. They can say, “I am not sure how to handle this situation, I will need some time to think about this.”  However, through verbal dialogue, both parties can reach a conclusion that is satisfactory to each individual involved.  Effective feedback is crucial to the functionality of the workplace and as such needs to be helpful and resourceful.

About the Author: Anna Cairo is an established life coach, editor and writer who support clients with tailored programs to suit their individual needs and requirements.

© 2008 Anna Cairo