Getting comfortable with the ‘F’ word

Mention the word ‘Feedback’ and watch everyone duck for cover! When did it turn into such a dirty word? The problem seems to have arisen with the contortion of the word into a politically correct euphemism to deliver thinly veiled unpleasant, negative, personal criticism. We increasingly have a tendency to focus our feedback on what hasn’t been done; attributing blame for errors and dishing out the consequences of unachieved business KPIs. The most interesting thing about this phenomenon is that it’s dreaded equally by the giver and receiver of the, dare I say it… feedback!

Whatever happened to taking the time to acknowledge and appreciate a job well done? I have run a number of skills workshops over the last two months with cross-departmental participants on delivering positive feedback. I asked each member of the group to come up with an example of when they had experienced positive, genuine, impromptu and specific feedback. After much hesitation, they came up with a small handful of experiences; a report well-written, a proposal well-received and a client complaint well-handled.

Interestingly the common characteristic in each instance was surprise. Surprise that they were being complimented. This was quickly followed by one of two reactions: suspicion of an ulterior motive, “What is the catch?”, or down-playing the feedback even when it reflected a significant achievement “Oh, it was nothing really”. Receiving positive feedback or a compliment with grace is as simple as saying “thank you”. It has the dual benefit of leaving the person who has taken the time to notice and acknowledge the positive behaviour encouraged to try it again.

Why don’t we value good news, a job well-done or positive reinforcement with the same weighting as the negative? Are we so lacking in confidence and the skill to deliver feedback that the only time people hear something good is as part of an indigestible feedback sandwich – saying something positive to butter them up then quickly throwing in negative feedback, and then ending with something nice in the hope that we will still be liked? Guess what? It doesn’t work – we are all on to it!

Tips for creating a positive experience when delivering constructive feedback:

  • Deliver the feedback 1-on-1 and face-to-face
  • Be genuine in your intentions which is to support the person to improve – people sense insincerity
  • Prepare your feedback before having the conversation – don’t script it but commit to what you need to say
  • Describe specific examples of their behaviour you have observed without judging
  • Ask for their response and listen with an open mind – be prepared to change your opinion
  • Ask for their suggestions on options for improvement and develop the solution jointly
  • Gain their agreement on the change to be made and what support you will provide
  • Agree next steps, and commit to a follow-up meeting time to follow up progress