I had the privilege of working with a colleague of mine yesterday to bring an hour of hard skills meets soft skills for business leaders and owners. The topic I chose to present on was the art of feedback. Feedback is an immensely helpful tool in organizations. We need feedback to grow, learn, get better. But, feedback is also uncomfortable to give at times because we risk conflict, upsetting others, and stirring the pot. This is a clash of values that I see all the time (even within myself): Tell the truth and be uncomfortable or not speak up and feel comfortable? Avoidance is easy, but it does have a cost: Nothing gets changed! And, I may add that being comfortable by avoidance feels good in the short term but is ultimately uncomfortable in the long run.
I define feedback as information delivered in the present moment about past performance or attitude to affect a future performance or attitude for the better. Feedback can be given as well as received, and it is either appreciative or constructive in my opinion. It is never meant to be destructive. Unfortunately when we get upset, we tend to give others feedback that is destructive, or at least negative: cold shoulder, eye rolls, stonewalling, yelling, etc. None of these actions are helpful. Feedback is a positive direct action that you can take to try to change something that seems amiss in your world.
So, here is the roadmap:
What is the problem? Example: A part designed by an engineer has a flaw in it.
Appreciation (Can you find one thing that you genuinely appreciate about this person?): For example (in a manufacturing setting): “I appreciate the time and detail you spent on the design of that metal part.”
Clear and Specific (What behavior do you want changed? What did you notice specifically that happened?): “I noticed however that part is susceptible to vibration based on its specs.”
Impact Describe the effect or feeling the errant behavior or outcome has on you, the customer and/or the business. : “If a customer has a faulty part then the products they are using the part in will be in jeopardy and this can have adverse consequences for their business.”
Request (What do you want to see specifically happen in the future; make a request on how it could be better). “So I would like you to rework the specs and make adjustments for the vibration potential.”
Now put all of these points (bolded in the above example) in a paragraph and deliver it. You can write it down for yourself first just to get clear on the points and practice it a few times before giving it. Delivering the feedback in person is the best way to proceed in my opinion. Make sure you are in a calm emotional space and conducive environment (not too noisy, etc.). Make sure to listen to how the person takes the feedback, they may have some valid points to consider that may shape your understanding of the situation differently. Most people upon hearing the feedback accept it and will change. This is what I call one-and-done feedback.
Some others may get defensive. If a person becomes defensive and begins to blame others, for example, simply take a deep breath and ask the person what they heard you say? This has them reiterate from their perspective what the feedback meant for them, what they heard. You may find that they are judging themselves too critically or that they have some information that you didn’t consider. Be open to changing your mind all the while staying firm in the outcome that you want. This is a delicate balance.
One other thing to consider is the possible emotional and mental space that the person you want to give feedback may be in at that particular time. For instance, if a person is just coming off an absence because of a family death, it might be good to wait a little while before delivering feedback.
Use these steps the next time you need to give someone in your business feedback. You’ll find that done right and often, feedback creates a culture that values it.