This is a guest post from Shannon Byrne at our sister company, CloudPeeps.
Sharing feedback is tough no matter what circumstance you face. Most of us try to be constructive, to balance positive and negative, to tailor it to the recipients communication preferences and ideally, to communicate your overarching goals while sharing.
The first thing to know is that the responsibility of sharing effective feedback should not rely solely on the provider. Feedback should be a two-way dialogue. Expectations should be set to create a collaborative environment open to feedback, and all parties should agree upon the end-goal in mind, as well as everyone’s role in reaching said goal.
Here’s eight tips for sharing more effective feedback and improving collaboration among your team, whether they’re in-house, freelance, or volunteer.
1) Keep it professional, but friendly
Feedback presented with hostility enters dangerous territory. The recipient will immediately become defensive, and the discussion will turn into an argument that lasts way too long. On the flip side, there’s a fine line between being empathetic and being passive when taking a friendlier, softer approach.
Remember that you’re having a professional conversation. When providing feedback, your tone should be friendly, but not overly casual; assertive, but not mean or demeaning.
The best way to refine your tone is to practice. Ask your loved ones, friends, and colleagues if you can practice giving them feedback, then have them critique your approach. How meta, right?
More importantly, remember that you’re talking to another professional — an expert on the thing that you hired them to work on.
This 2013 study from The Journal of Consumer Research says that when people are experts on a subject, or consider themselves experts, they’re more eager to hear negative feedback, while those novices are more likely to seek positive responses. Take this into consideration before having a feedback discussion with the recipient.
2) Be direct and candid
This Harvard Business Review article suggests that in order to get down to business and avoid weird anxious feelings among both the provider and recipient of feedback, start the conversation with a straightforward “I’m going to give you some feedback” or “Are you open to my coaching on this?”
This way, no one will be caught off guard by whatever it is you’re going to say next, which should be candid insights on what’s being presented.
Additionally, it’s possible to be candid without being mean. Be empathetic. But instead of starting a sentence with “Maybe instead you could…” start it with “Instead, you can take this approach…here’s why the results will be closer to what we’re looking for.”
With this approach, you’re solving a problem together rather than passive aggressively sharing what you would’ve done differently.
3) Share technical instructions, not emotional appeals
As mentioned in this New York Times article, author of “Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure,” Tim Hartford says: “We need to separate the emotional side from the technical points.” It’s not helpful to say “that’s really good” or “that’s really bad.” It’s helpful to explain how something should be done.
I’ve faced this challenge in providing feedback on pieces of writing before. Rather than saying “this is really good, but… ” to a specific point being made, I provide specific instructions, such as:
- “Typically, our blog posts start with an impact — lead with the point you’re making, then back it up with research and opinions. Tell your story throughout, rather than all at the beginning.”
- “There’s a lot of run-on sentences in this paragraph, here’s how you could break up this sentence, for example….”
You’ll see that the first example isn’t overly direct. That’s because the idea of disregarding someone’s feelings when giving feedback is a difficult one to swallow. Very few of us are good at sharing instructions without any emotional appeal. It’s ok to keep a level of empathy, as long as you’re still instructing on what needs to be corrected. Which leads to the next tip…
4) Avoid the compliment sandwich
So often when giving feedback we want to start by sharing something positive, then move to the constructive feedback. But of course we don’t want to end on a negative note, so we share something positive again then go on our merry way. We’ve been conditioned to give feedback this way.
The problem with this, is that often times it leads to the constructive part being lost entirely. Then, when a contract ends and you don’t renew with the contractor, they are left confused and perturbed.
This situation can be avoided by applying tip number three. Provide instructions rather than emotional appeals. Be clear in sharing the specific results you’re happy with, the ones you’re not, and why for both. That why is crucial here.
The why allows the recipient of feedback to understand what went wrong and how to correct their course of action. It relates the work that has been done (or hasn’t been done) back to the overarching goals that everyone involved has sought out to achieve.
The article “The Power of Feedback” by John Hattie and Helen Timperley published in The Review of Educational Research says that if providing positive feedback, sharing exactly what it is the recipient did correctly is more helpful than just telling them that they did a good job. This way, you’re creating a learning experience that the recipient can build from.
5) Share feedback often with regular check-ins
Timeliness is key to avoiding a potential disaster. Upon initial agreement of an engagement, set a schedule for results presentation and feedback. You can name this standing meeting however you like. Perhaps something along the lines of “weekly check-in” or “one-on-ones” in order to avoid any anxiousness among any party, or stigma that the meeting will be a lashing session on someone’s work or leadership style.
Rather, these meetings should be short and periodic reviews of what has been done correctly and what can be done better. It’s also a great time for the recipient of feedback to ask any questions they may have been uncomfortable interrupting the provider to ask.
Start each meeting by quickly reviewing what you’re going over and what the end result of the meeting should be. Then give each party plenty of time to present their work and to have collaborative discussion on the points made. Most importantly, make sure everyone involved walks away with action items owed to each other.
6) Develop a collaborative dialogue
The effectiveness of feedback is measured significantly by perception. By developing an understood and agreed-upon language for all parties to adopt when giving feedback, misunderstandings will be avoided. The result for the receiver is that they know when they’re being given constructive feedback, not just being scolded.
Allow your recipient to take part in defining this language. Maybe they have trouble differentiating when you’re sharing feedback from when you’re unhappy with something else happening in your life. By sharing this with you, you’re able to improve the process and create feedback guidelines together.
Roger Schwartz, author of “Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams” says that you should allow feedback recipients to share why they’ve taken the course of actions they have. This understanding lets you provide what they can specifically do to produce improved results next time. It also opens your mind to other potential solutions to the issue or work at hand.
7) Avoid micromanaging; let the recipient share their results first
This doesn’t mean that if you see an issue (let’s say a typo in a tweet) pop up that you shouldn’t say something. That isn’t micromanaging, that’s pointing out a typo and asking a colleague to be more careful and helping them to learn to pay attention to details.
However, if you’re commenting on every piece of work (or every tweet) you see published, the recipient is going to feel over-monitored and is going to resist any feedback you provide, before you even get a chance to properly share it.
Rather, let the recipient present the work they have done and the results from said work. From there, you can provide instructional and clear feedback on what has been done to your standards, what hasn’t, and why.
8) Have patience
Patience is an important quality in a leader, it’s also one of the most difficult ones to adopt and maintain. We all lose it sometimes, and that’s ok. However, when working with a team and several different personalities and work styles, patience is necessary to keep your sanity.
Sometimes you’re going to have to share the same piece of feedback three times before a change is made. People are busy and have a lot on their minds. Refining work is a process and some areas of work need more guidance than others. Have patience, but also set limitations on flexibility.
If it takes more than three times sharing the same piece of feedback, you likely need to assess how you’re presenting such feedback. Are you being clear? Is the recipient understanding what you’re saying? Don’t hesitate to ask them — have them repeat it back to you. How else are you going to know, and get better at sharing feedback?
Wrapping it up
These tips will help you improve your feedback style, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Working relationships are dynamic and unique to the individuals involved. Be honest and genuine with each other while maintaining an appropriate level of professionalism. It’s the only way you’ll learn how to effectively communicate with each other.
About our contributor // Shannon Byrne is the Chief Content Officer for CloudPeeps.