How to Give Effective Feedback – 4 Tips from a Master Coach

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Giving effective feedback is hard. Specifically when it’s of the constructive (i.e., negative) variety. With that said, great leaders understand the value of feedback – the good, the bad and the ugly. Nobody wants to hear negative feedback about themselves, but most of us do understand the need for it. In one study, 72% of respondents agreed that their performance was more likely to improve if their managers provided them with regular corrective feedback.

“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” – Bill Gates

As with any sensitive matter in life, mindful practice and repetition are key. In the same study referenced above, a whopping 92% of respondents agreed with the following statement, “Negative feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance.” So the question is, how do we deliver hard feedback appropriately?

In the video below, Tom Nickalls – Founder and CEO of Castle HR, sits down with Michaud Garneau – Founder and Principal of Weird is Nrml, to discuss the art of giving and receiving feedback effectively. A brief summary of the key takeaways can be found below the video.

Why is effective feedback so hard?

1. It’s scary. We’re hard-wired to want to fit in and both giving and receiving feedback challenges the status quo. This makes us vulnerable to potential rejection from the group.

2. Most of us have been taught that if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all. We’ve also been taught that nice means polite. So not saying something aligns with what a lot of us think is morally right.

3. We don’t know how to do it. We’ve never been taught how to effectively, productively and respectfully give someone feedback that will actually help them grow.

How are people messing it up?

1. We mistakenly think it’s about us. We believe the point of feedback is to make our lives better. So when we do give someone feedback it’s oriented toward how it will make our lives better and not theirs.

2. We assume saying something once is sufficient. Likely, we’ve sugar-coated whatever we said to someone in such a way that they don’t actually know what the problem is. Yet we expect them to make changes based on it.

3. We rarely (if ever) ask for feedback, and when we do the way we ask is ineffective (i.e., “any feedback for me?”). This usually ends in the other person saying “nope” OR they unleash a pile of grievances unrelated to what you were actually hoping to get feedback on.

What are 3 things folks can do today to start doing feedback better?

“Honesty is a very expensive gift; just don’t expect it from cheap people.” – Warren Buffett

1. Recognize and acknowledge that it’s a hard thing to both give or receive feedback well. Normalize the weird feeling parts of it and give yourself some grace. Bravery isn’t the absence of fear, but the willingness to act in the face of it. Tell yourself you’re choosing to be brave.

2. Ask for it often and show your appreciation when you receive it, especially if you’re the boss. Here are two ways to ask that might actually get a response:

a) Ask for specific feedback. For instance, “what’s one thing I could do to make working with me easier?” or “What’s one thing I could do to make your job easier?” When your reports know specifically what you’re looking for, it makes it easier for them to answer. It removes the fear of “omg, I hope I’m not off base and say something totally offensive and get fired.” You’re giving them permission AND guard rails.

b) Use Scaling questions. For instance, “on a scale of 1-10 how did you find working together on that last project?” Then add in one of those specific questions, “what’s one thing I could have done to increase that number by 1?” You’re asking the person to give a single piece of actionable feedback here. You don’t need a litany of everything you screwed up, just one thing that you can work on to get 10% better.

3. Schedule time to give and receive feedback during your weekly one-to-ones. Add this at the start or the end of the agenda to make sure it happens.

4. Bonus 4th point! Get everyone trained on how to give and receive effective feedback and how to differentiate candour from being a jerk.

The importance of creating a pro-feedback culture

“Praise in public; criticize in private.” – Vince Lombardi

Normalizing (tactful) feedback within your organization isn’t easy, but the impact is incredibly valuable. Your people and by extension your business will go further, faster because of this. This includes practicing this in both formal situations (e.g., performance reviews) and as a norm within your company culture.

If you’re ever conflicted about a piece of feedback that you’re unsure if you should give, think about it this way. Say you’re eating dinner at a large social gathering and, unbeknownst to you, some spinach gets stuck in your teeth. A bit later, one of the people dining with you quietly draws your attention to the spinach issue. You quickly remove it, they give you a thumbs up, you both share an awkward smile and life goes on. But aren’t you glad you’re not going to walk around all night with a big piece of spinach in your teeth?

This is how a culture that celebrates effective feedback can thrive. They embrace the reality that a few moments of awkwardness can and does benefit everyone involved, helping them toward a brighter future. That might be spinach-free teeth for the night, but it could also be a coaching session that elevates their career, your business, or both.

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