Effective feedback is a cornerstone of success in any organization. From performance management to talent retention to worker safety, providing appropriate and timely feedback makes the difference between a high-performance organization and a bankrupt one. Here are some rules for providing feedback.
Ask permission to provide feedback.
As odd as it may sound, just because you have something to say, you’re opinion may not be welcome, or it may not be a good time for the person to hear it. Start your feedback by asking, “Can I give you some feedback?” You must be prepared to drop the conversation if the person says no, or looks very uncomfortable. Also, you should ask permission to provide positive feedback as well; trust me, people will be pleasantly surprised to hear nice things said after answering yes to that question.
For greatest impact provide the feedback as close as possible to the time the behavior occurred, but don’t provide feedback when you are still angry. It benefits no one to tell him or her that you were irked that they were ten minutes late to a meeting last October. In fact, it makes you seem slow-witted and petty, which you probably are.
Telling someone that they’re “doing a good (or bad) job” doesn’t really provide any information at all, and therefore it is a useless waste of time. You need to explain specifically what you like or want changed in a person’s behavior (and sometimes both).
Concentrate on behaviors.
Telling someone that you don’t like their attitude is really just a way of telling him or her, “I don’t like you.” Attitudes are behavioral manifestations of emotions, and while we can’t control our emotions, we can control our behavior. Is it really the attitude you don’t like or is it the behaviors (sarcasm, constant complaining, etc.)?
I once worked along side a man who hated his job, and yet he did exceptional work, never complained or bad mouthed the company or coworkers. Did he have a bad attitude? Some would say yes, but I would say, who cares how he feels about his job as long as he does it and his feelings about his job do not affect the overall morale of the company. (By the way the only reason I knew he hated his job was he told me in an eerily calm and friendly way.)
Describe what you’ve seen, not what others told you.
There are few things worse than having your boss say, “People are telling me that you are...” The logical first response is to get defensive and ask, who has been saying these terrible things about me? It’s a fair question. Without knowing who provided the information you don’t have any context, and without context you can’t tell your side of the story. Some people instinctively attribute their own observations into shadowy third-party sources; this is just cowardice. When providing feedback it’s important to speak in the first person for example: “I over heard you talking to a customer on the phone and when you said ‘well I don’t care if you like it, that’s our policy,’ I found your behavior disrespectful and rude.” By dealing with behaviors you have observed you are more likely to have a deeper impact on the behavior and less excuse making or diversions (“Who told you that!?”)
Related: Anatomy of a Rumor
Respect the person’s privacy.
Unless the behavior is so egregious that you must act immediately, don’t provide feedback publicly. After asking if you can provide feedback move to a quiet, private, and neutral area. This will allow you to respect the person’s privacy but by moving to neutral turf you level the playing field and allow the other person to provide you some feedback as well.