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The art of giving feedback

Giving feedback is something people hear a lot about in the workplace. We know it’s important, but are we really confident in delivering it, in a way that can be heard and understood by your team member, peer, or even manager?


There are three basic principles to remember when offering anyone feedback:

  1. Be authentic

  2. Be clear

  3. Be timely

Let’s look at these things in a bit more detail.



Be authentic

This is about being true to your own personal style. If you’re a gentle soul, there’s no point in delivering your message in a hyper aggressive way - you’ll instantly lose credibility. That said, it’s important that the recipient is completely clear about what you have to say. If you find you generally deliver feedback in an apologetic way, or follow up clear points with a nervous laugh, it would be helpful to explore these tendencies with someone you trust - for example your therapist - and look at your own part in it.


If you’re a thoughtful and considered individual, don’t feel under pressure to deliver it straightaway - take your time planning exactly what you want to say, and prepare yourself. Although... don't take too long - see point #3 'being timely'!


If you’re someone that’s naturally more fiery, then of course you’ll want to think about how you deliver your message so that you convey your message assertively, but not aggressively. This is the mistake many, many people make in all kinds of environments; I have often witnessed a tendency to think this is what is expected in corporate situations, when in private or domestic setting those same individuals aren't comfortable with their own feelings of frustration or anger. So they're not practiced in expressing those feelings with consideration and care, which can in turn make moments of release in a professional environment much more explosive than is needed.


In all these cases, authenticity is key, but not at the expense of delivering the message. The trick is to think through in advance what you need to say, but to use a communication style that is true to you personally, which leads us on to the importance of being clear…


Be clear

It’s really hard to act on feedback if you’re not entirely sure what’s been said. So, you can help with this in two ways.


Firstly, get to the point! Work out what you need to say and deliver the news in as few words as possible.


Consider as a basic template :

a) outlining the situation

b) conveying the impact the words or behaviour have had either on you or the third party

c) how you need to structure what you say in an authentic way such that the person you’re communicating to will be able to hear and understand.


The second thing - and this is the tricky bit - work out specifically what the individual needs feedback on, and be clear if any part of the reaction is yours to own. This is the art of separating out what is their ‘stuff’, with what is yours; being boundaried. For feedback to be given in the first place requires a minimum of two people, the giver and the receiver. And all too often we require others (the receiver) to take emotional responsibility for things that they do that spark our (the giver) own personal trigger points, without taking care to examine whether or not our reaction is proportionate to what has actually happened.


If, when you’ve had a thorough and conscious look at the situation, the feedback is still valid, then you must deliver it. Leaders in fact have an ethical responsibility to deliver it, but you'd be amazed (or sadly not*) at the number of leaders who choose to avoid a golden opportunity to deliver some feedback. You may find that part of the feedback is for them, but actually in your consideration, part of what what you were about to deliver is actually an over reaction - and therefore perhaps discover that some of what you need to say needs to be directed at yourself, as part of managing your own responsibility in the professional relationship. If so, then own it - and use it as an opportunity for some self-development.


*If you work for a business where offering regular feedback is not a part of the culture, then feel free to drop me a line, I'd be happy to help.


Be timely

There is nothing worse than having an end of year performance conversation with your boss in December… and they tell you all about something you did in April that annoyed them, or got wrong, or received negative feedback on behind the scenes. Therefore, as an individual either part of or leading a team, you know it's best to deliver feedback as close to the event as possible. This helps with specificity - it’s important that people know what they did wrong and how they can improve, vs a general criticism which unless handled delicately could result in them thinking you’ve assassinated their entire character. Plus, for each day you wait to share that valuable piece of feedback - so valuable there is a nauseating maxim that many would say it is a gift - is a day where that person will continue to display the same behaviours, because they simply do not know what impact they’re having on others.


Delivering feedback well - communicating well - is not a dark art, but it is a crucial skill that psychotherapy and coaching can help with. Deciphering what is your stuff, what belongs to someone else... working out why you find it hard to be authentic, or what stops you delivering clear feedback without removing your power with a nervous laugh… discovering why you end up with feelings of frustration or anger when you fail to deliver feedback... all of these things can be unpacked, disclosed and worked out in a room with a trusted person. Treat it as a dress rehearsal for what goes on in your office.

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