I was giving a talk to a Local Authority in Birmingham, helping them understand the difference between mentoring and coaching. However, during the course of the conversation (I always prefer ‘talks’ to be two-way whenever possible), the issue of giving feedback came up.
I have to confess I’m a big fan of feedback, as long as it’s done well, and I think it’s one of the key features of my own coaching style. Why am I a fan? Well, when I’m working with leaders and teams, many of them are surprised to find out that one of the most crucial parts of high performance is the ability to effectively manage and deal with conflict. Feedback is part of this, yet very few people know how to give feedback well. Why? I think there are two key skills which, like all skills, take practise: the first is the ability to hone into what is the most relevant, useful, and honest feedback, which really requires being present with those in the room. The second is the delivery of feedback which isn’t easy because it needs to be straightforward and easy to understand (trust me it’s so frustrating to get feedback you can’t understand!) but also gentle enough to reduce both conflict and damage to the person’s self-esteem. How is this done? I follow a few basic rules of thumb:
Positive: The feedback should be to support the person in whatever they are working on or trying to achieve. Start with what is good and make sure you mean it, otherwise you undermine all the feedback you give.
Non-judgemental: It’s about focusing on behaviour and the impact it has on others, e.g. ‘when you behave like ‘x’ it comes across/affects me by ‘y’’.
It’s not about ‘you are lazy/you are uninteresting/you are idle/you are rude’. Hopefully you can feel the difference in emotive content just by reading these two approaches.
Evidence: Always give evidence for all of your feedback, positive and negative, and make sure you are as specific as possible. If you don’t have evidence, don’t give the feedback until you do.
Open it up: Ask them what they think.
Remember, feedback is a gift (even if it doesn’t always feel like it!): Everyone is within their right to use it or not, however, I would say you have to take it. And make sure you are able to take feedback yourself.
Used correctly, feedback is a valuable resource. Once mastered, you will have a skill that is, sadly, rarely used to its full potential. Of course there is even greater skill in allowing people to reflect and discover this themselves, but not everyone can always do this or see how their behaviour is having an impact.
The highest performing relationships manage conflict effectively, and within that, quality feedback delivered well is key.