If you speak English because you were born and raised in the UK, giving feedback can be painful. It’s a culture thing. We’re so concerned about about making everyone comfortable and not upsetting anyone, we can dress up feedback with verbiage, meaningless platitudes and tie ourselves in knots of nonsense in the process.
Sometimes out of mischief, I’ll ask a group how they feel about the word ‘feedback’; whether someone’s about to give them some or is asking them for some (and this applies to positive or performance-improving feedback). Cue outbreak of grimacing, groaning and twisted, awkward body language – predominantly from the Brits in the room. People from other cultures are usually much more matter of fact about it. No big deal.
With positive feedback, it’s all too easy for the manager to show satisfaction with a high five or a “Great job!”. So the recipient will gather their boss is pleased – but they may be unsure what prompted it. With corrective feedback, what some managers try to do is ‘soften the blow’. They’ll dress it up, or make ‘feedback sandwiches’ (polite term being used here), you know – some good stuff, the bad stuff and some more good stuff. Which confuses the hell out of people and, human nature being what it is, they’ll cling to one bit of the sandwich/ message, not the other. So they’ll only hear about half what you’re telling them. Neither helps the recipient figure out what they’ve done right/wrong so that that they can do more/less of it. They only know that Master/Mistress is pleased/displeased, but do not have a clue what to DO about it.
Too much fluff and not enough facts. A common failing in feedback, whether positive or corrective. So what to do?
Fillet the fluff. Get rid of wasted words, ‘blow softeners’, insincerity and other guff. If you’re balancing praise with constructive feedback (separately, but little and often), then you don’t need to dress it up. Indeed, people are more likely to know where they stand with you. Remember your voice, gesture, facial expression and other body language can indicate a great deal about how you feel towards this person, far more powerfully than words alone.
Stick to the facts. What did the person actually DO to merit the praise or performance-improving feedback? Grammar alert! We’re after verbs here. Verbs, as in ‘doing’ words, not adjectives, or descriptive words. The latter aren’t at all helpful when giving feedback.
So avoid: “sloppy”, “aggressive”, “highly-strung”, “confident”, “efficient” – yes, really. That’s not giving feedback – it’s labelling someone.
Replace with: “turned up late”, “raised voice at x…”, “spoke harshly and quickly”, “spoke clearly and used body language to convey enthusiasm”, and “prioritised and got the job done on time”. It may take a little practice at first, but investing time in clear feedback will be worth it.
You may find this post useful: ‘What’s wrong with a ‘feedback sandwich’?
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