How Do I Give Feedback?

Too much of anything is bad, right? I believe this to be true in most circumstances. Too much food, you get sick. Too much exercise, sore muscles and possible injuries. Too much booze, well…. that can lead to too much of other things!

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But what about feedback?

Is there a circumstance where too much feedback is just, well, too much? Or the other extreme, when you are not getting any at all. That’s not great either, right? Or what if you don’t know how to give feedback?

I was working for a large company a few years back and it felt like feedback came at employees from every angle. Say the wrong thing in a meeting, get feedback. Look at someone sideways in the hallway, get feedback. Disagree with your peer or partner on a project, get feedback. Most of it was not helpful or constructive so what was the point? Personally, I feel it was a way to have folks conform to a certain set of beliefs and way of doing work. Guess what one of the side effects was though? You guessed it. People stopped sharing their opinions or trying to innovate. They were worried they would get feedback. With no innovation, people and teams did not grow. It made me sad to see amazing minds being stifled because they were not comfortable sharing.

But it wasn’t all bad, I swear! There was some goodness that I took away and lessons I was able to add to my toolkit. The first was that I learned the basics, which everyone should know.

  • Feedback should be built off of trends. If you see someone make a mistake in a meeting, that should not always be a feedback moment. Just make note of it. If you see the same behavior happen multiple times, then share what you have seen. Explain how you and others perceived the behavior. Don’t think that every time someone does something wrong they need to get feedback. Maybe they are having an off day.
  • But, it is not always right to wait. There are times when giving feedback immediately after a meeting or interaction makes sense. Use your gut to figure out if it is something that needs to be addressed immediately. A couple of examples are: If the situation caused a major incident between two parties; if a leader behaved inappropriately in front of their team; or if there are behaviors that derailed a project.
  • Don’t make it a personal attack. Stick to the behaviors and the perceptions that you took away from the experience. “In the meeting today, you spoke over your peers and interrupted them many times. I have seen you do this in meetings a couple times now. I thought you might want to be aware that this shuts down the discussion and people disengage. I want you to understand how folks perceive you because of this behavior.
  • Give the person time to process the feedback and permission to step back. This will usually stop them from becoming defensive. “I know I just gave you a lot to think about. We don’t need to talk about it now, and in fact, I want to pause the conversation. We can regroup in our next 1:1 to talk more about it if you’d like.” I always want that time when I get feedback because my first reaction is to defend my actions. This may stem from my belief that I am so perfect, but that is a topic for another blog. LOL!
  • They may get defensive. That’s okay. As the peer or partner providing a feedback, it might get weird. That’s okay. You are trying to help them. “Hey, before this gets too tough I want to pause our conversation. I hope you know I have your best interests at heart, which is why I wanted to give you this feedback. It was not meant to cause any issues between us.” You want them to understand the spirit in which you gave the feedback- to help them improve.
  • Make sure it is the right time. This first means applying the basic rule that you praise in public and coach in private. But it also means take a pulse before you talk and ask permission. “Hey, I wanted to give you some feedback. Is now a good time or should we schedule something later this week to discuss?”
  • Make sure they know you are giving them feedback. How many of you have heard from your teams that they never get feedback. Most leaders cringe when they hear that or are baffled. “I gave John feedback last week on his project. I told him he needed to provide more timely updates. The team was feeling like they were in the dark about what he was working on.” Guess what? John didn’t take that as feedback. Start the conversation with, “I want to give you some feedback I am hearing from the team.” One simple sentence will make sure John knows what is going on.
  • Let people make mistakes. It is how they learn. Don’t be a helicopter manager. This stifles innovation. This doesn’t mean you have a complete hands off approach. It just means you give them room to make mistakes and learn as they go. I had an amazing manager early in my career. One day she shared with me that she struggled with stepping back and letting me do solo projects. I was at first pretty upset because I thought she didn’t like the outcome. She clarified with me that she approved of the outcome, but wanted me to do it the way she would. It took her some time to realize that I needed to take a different path to learn.  As a leader you will want to point your folks to the easiest path.  Please realize that the longer route will teach them skills they can take through their career (even though it might try your patience.

In short, feedback can be a great conversation, if it is handled correctly. I like to use the Golden Rule of treating others they way you want to be treated. Would getting feedback the way I outlined above work for you?