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Giving feedback is a delicate process, one which has the potential to create tension, if not done correctly. We are all different, and sometimes the wrong word can evoke negative feelings and possibly even cause conflict. Yet, giving feedback is one of the most useful tools at our disposal to help others grow and improve, if used well. After all, everybody needs an external point of view to see things they are not necessarily able to see on their own.
Many companies require employees to provide feedback to their colleagues and superiors for a variety of reasons. It is a very useful tool to get a complete picture of a situation, recognize problems or unfair behavior, and give employees a chance to evaluate their managers. However, very few businesses teach their employees how to do so effectively, and some actually feel a little lost when confronted with the task.
No need to worry, though. Whether you wish to provide feedback at a one-on-one meeting, or during a mid-year or annual performance review, we've put together a list of tips to have you covered.
Prepare in advance. The more specific you will be, the better your point will come across: gather emails, presentations, and other documents to explain yourself. Multiple pieces of practical, factual information will help validate your argument and structure your meeting. Prepare a list of examples well in advance to support your observations, and review your speech to see if you're being subjective in any way. Which leads us to…
Be objective. If you're going to walk away with just one of our tips, let it be this one. When giving feedback, it pays off to remain very factual, and provide lots of practical examples to make your point. Avoid being critical or jumping to conclusions: you will lose the attention of your audience, and possibly damage your own standing. Management expert Marcus Buckingham suggests talking about our own response to the other person's behavior in terms of “reactions". For instance, by saying: “when you said that, my reaction was…" you are simply describing your response instead of making a general statement, which can come across as judgmental.
Never get personal. Maybe there is preexisting conflict with the person you are giving feedback to, or maybe they are motivated by personal reasons – we are human after all. Whatever it is, resist the urge to bring it up: by sticking to the facts, you will avoid any chances of misunderstanding. The same applies if the person you are giving feedback to becomes angry: even when provoked, always strive to bring the conversation back to an objective level. In the worst case, it might be better to stop and reconvene the day after, when everybody is calmer.
Be positive. We all have flaws and weaknesses, some of which might not be clear to us, others we might do very little about. There is no use in focusing only on the negative aspects: instead, try to focus on the positive. Maybe, the person you are giving feedback to can strengthen their strong skills to outweigh a certain weakness. Perhaps they are not aware of their own strengths in the same way they don't perceive their weaknesses, and you are helping them to see themselves more clearly. Whatever it is, a little positivity can go a long way in motivating a colleague; just pay attention not to sugarcoat your argument.