A manager who wishes to communicate effectively must receive and impart reliable and honest input by observing, questioning, and opening up productive two-way dialogue. Feedback is a major part of the total communication process that requires presenting ideas, thoughts, and messages clearly and distinctly.
Within the workplace, opportunities generally surface that make it easier and faster to obtain and gather information through an informal feedback process. Informal feedback consists of information exchanged among employees during normal workplace communications. It can be as simple as a supervisor or co-worker commenting on a procedural flaw or an incorrectly completed procedure. Employees often dispense positive informal feedback by telling other co-workers when they did something well. Through daily interactions and informal feedback, leaders and managers are able to effectively establish key interpersonal-relationship connections.
Before offering feedback, it is essential to know just why you need it and what you intend to do with it. Below are some questions you should answer before offering one of your employees or anyone else specific feedback.
• What is my reason or purpose for giving this feedback, and how do I intend to use it?
• What specific actions or behaviors do I need to reinforce, alter, modify, or correct?
• What do I want to accomplish through this feedback and discussion session?
• What specific information do I need to find out or learn more about?
• What specific questions do I require answers to?
• What issues of timing, location, advance preparation, or other logistics do I need to consider?
For some individuals just the thought of receiving feedback from another person, especially a manager or supervisor, is terrifying. This is because they typically expect the worst, not the best, when hearing something about themselves. In fact, some employees will automatically define feedback (especially “critical feedback”) as negatively opinionated. However, the actual definition of critical feedback is “the art of evaluating or analyzing with knowledge and propriety, with the intent of providing useful information for future decisions.” As such, it is generally far better to focus on the positive aspects of the feedback, and interject as little of the negative as possible, especially if changing another person’s attitude or behavior is at stake.
Another reason some individuals tend to resist critical feedback has to do with personal self-image. When individuals sense, feel, or believe that someone sees them in a less-than-positive light, they may feel anywhere from uncomfortable to devastated.
People like to hear what is consistent with their own views and tend to ignore ideas that run counter to their belief structures and comfort levels. It takes an open mind to listen to an opposing view, which may include hearing that they may be doing something ineffectively or possess a skill deficiency.
Good, reliable, and usable feedback tends to have several characteristics that make it beneficial and valuable. For any feedback to be effective, it should be:
• Descriptive rather than evaluative, which typically avoids generating levels of defensiveness
• Focused on describing and detailing one’s own reactions, which leaves the individual receiving it free to use it or not as he chooses
• Quite specific rather than general
• Focused on behavior rather than the individual
• Focused on the needs of not only the receiver but also the giver of the feedback, which is to help, not chastise or hurt
• Directed toward a specific behavior or something the receiver can do something about
• Asked for and not imposed on a person
Feedback is most useful when it is timely or immediate. This implies that it is wisest to offer it soon after a specific action or behavior warrants eliciting it. It is important to keep in mind that even effective feedback, if it is presented at an inappropriate time, may do more harm than good.
Feedback should be used for sharing information rather than for simply providing directions, opinions, and advice. The main idea behind giving feedback is that it is intended to allow the receiver to personally decide about its validity or usefulness, which is inherently based on whether the information is in agreement or harmony with the person’s own goals and needs. Keep in mind that when anyone provides advice by informing another person what to do, the individual offering the advice to some degree or another ends up taking away the other person’s freedom.
Using feedback effectively involves structuring the amount of information the receiver can use, rather than the amount the imparter would like to give. Overloading an individual with feedback reduces the possibility that she may be able to effectively use what is received. When givers of feedback continually impart more informative feedback than can be effectively used, they are more often than not satisfying some need of their own, rather than giving it to help the other person.
Effective feedback tends to be concerned with what is said and done, or how, not why. The “why” involves assumptions regarding motive or intent, and these tend to alienate the person getting the feedback, while generating elements of resentment, suspicion, and distrust.