How to Give Constructive Feedback and Avoid Ugly Confrontations
“You’ve been doing a fantastic job, but, there’s just one thing….”
Many of us dread these words and what follows next. It’s only natural to feel this way because giving and/or receiving criticism can be daunting. Feedback has the potential to either encourage people to do better or totally demoralize them, so it’s important that you remain calm and optimistic when giving or receiving it.
According to a research paper published in The Journal of Consumer Research titled “Tell Me What I did Wrong: Experts Seek and Respond to Negative Feedback,” many people often forget the purpose of feedback. It’s not meant to make people feel bad, but rather to help people DO better. Negative feedback is not always bad, and positive feedback is not always good.
If you want to encourage people to do better and become the best they can be, you need to learn how to give constructive evaluations. Encouraging others also helps you achieve more in your own personal and business life. Here are some handy tips you can use to give more constructive feedback and encourage others instead of demoralizing them.
1. Remind yourself why you are giving feedback
Before you approach someone to give an evaluation, remind yourself why you are doing it. You goal is to help others improve performance or a situation. If you are rushed, overly critical, or unsure of yourself, you won’t accomplish your purpose.
Step back and analyze your reasons for wanting to give feedback. Build up a positive outlook and positive approach that is focused on improvement: this is important because a positive approach often gets more from people.
You don’t always have to be positive, though; a little negativity and controlled anger can be useful when used sparingly, especially when people are not paying sufficient attention to what you are saying.
2. Create a comfortable environment to talk
According to neuroscientist Kevin Ochsner from Columbia University, who was citing research done at the university, people who receive feedback apply it only about 30% of the time. If the person you are talking to doesn’t feel comfortable, the effectiveness of your communication drops and ultimately becomes unproductive.
Find somewhere safe to talk where you won’t be overheard or interrupted. Start the talk with something positive and then move on to an open, objective assessment. Help the other person “see” where there is a need for improvement and offer practical solutions to bring about desired change.
3. Observe time
Feedback is not about surprising people or getting people off guard; it’s about telling people what they need to hear when they are most likely expecting to hear it. The effectiveness of your communication increases when it is given closer to the time the event or issue being addressed happened.
Congratulate people for a job well done as soon as the job is done. In the same way, address issues of none performance sooner rather than later. Don’t wait a whole year for problems to pile up before you address them—it’s easier for everyone involved when feedback is given in a timely manner.
The exception to this rule is if the situation in question is highly emotional. Wait for everyone to calm down first before you approach them for a candid talk, thus avoiding potentially ugly confrontations with people.
4. Focus on one specific issue
People generally respond better to an evaluation or performance appraisal when it is focused directly on a specific issue and delivered with a positive slant. Avoid discussing more than two issues in a single appraisal session, because doing so risks the other person feeling attacked. Focus more on one (or at most, two) priority issues that you want improved on first.
Say something like: “You’re smart. I want you to give at least one opinion in every brainstorming meeting we’re in together.” instead of “You should talk more in our meetings.” The former statement is more focused, addresses a specific issue directly and offers a solution, while the latter communication is ambiguous and opens many avenues for misinterpretation.
5. Be tough, but not mean
Feedback will fall flat if you are unreasonable, mean-spirited and/or offensive. State your expectations clearly, firmly and civilly with a view to achieve positive change. Give not-so-positive appraisal in a private conversation to avoid making people look foolish or feel embarrassed in front of others.
Just be considerate and stick to discussing behavior that people can actually change. People generally appreciate public recognition of positive contributions, but will often take it hard if you criticize them for under-performance in public.
6. Follow up
Follow up on the progress of what was talked about in performance evaluations. Acknowledge people’s efforts to improve, and reward them when possible to reinforce positive effort and encourage improved performance.
Remember that people tend to become what you encourage them to be, not what you nag them to be, so don’t nag them with the excuse that you are following up. Be reasonable, and you will increase the effectiveness of your communications.
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