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5 feedback fails (and what to do instead)

Taking part in feedback conversations can be awkward, disjointed, lack clarity on the real message, and all too often fail completely. That’s just from the perspective of the receiver! When you’re the one giving feedback...oh crikey, multiply that awkwardness by 100!

We believe that a feedback-rich culture underpins the most successful and enjoyable places to work. We want to make this more common-place rather than by exception.

In this post, Chris Caswell, Adelaida Manolescu, and I explore some common examples of giving feedback that whilst intuitive, actually end up making things worse...

Vicarious feedback

“Noel was talking about Chris behind his back the other day. Not sure this is good for team morale...”

“I wish Adelaida would stop turning her video off during virtual meetings”

When someone gives you feedback about someone else (that you’ve not observed yourself) it can be human nature to try to be helpful and get involved in trying to resolve it.

In reality, context is king. It’s super difficult to offer feedback without knowing the full details.

So, unfortunately, acting upon a situation full of other people's assumptions and interpretations can quickly unravel into a very awkward and unsuccessful conversation. The receiver may feel powerless or frustrated that colleagues are talking about them behind their backs. Either way, the purpose is lost.

💡Top tip 1 - Stick to giving feedback on things you’ve observed yourself. Where you haven’t, avoid stepping in and encourage the other person to give their feedback directly.💡

Sh!t sandwich

“Chris - I really enjoyed that workshop. I thought it was great. I was surprised that you didn’t cover X, as this was mentioned on the agenda and if I knew you weren’t going to cover that I might not have come. But thanks again for the amazing workshop.”

Would you like some fries with that sandwich? Err, no, I’ll pass thanks.

The often disingenuous nature of the opening and closing statements here adds no value. If anything, these lead to frustration as they will see right through it. Whilst it’s human nature to make a bitter pill easier to swallow, ultimately this is more about you feeling comfortable than providing truly meaningful feedback.

💡 Top tip 2 - Stop sugar-coating. Focus on the actual feedback and give it as clearly and eloquently as possible.💡

Hiding behind questions

You have a specific piece of feedback to give, but you open with:

“How did you think that went?”

This is where coaching type questions are presented in the hope of self-realisation from the person receiving the feedback, rather than just getting to the point.

Unless a coaching relationship is already established, this is not the appropriate tool for the job. Beginning with questions changes the purpose of the conversation and presents the risk that it could go in a range of different directions.

💡Top Tip 3 - Take the time to think about and articulate the feedback you want to give, then have a direct conversation around this.💡

Unsolicited feedback

“You should stop doing X”

“I would prefer if you do more of this”

Often you may feel a natural, instinctive urge to give someone feedback, but if this comes out of the blue for the person receiving this, it’s likely to be awkward and/or unwanted.

Although there may be a positive intent behind it, this could result in a negative impact on your relationship.

💡Top tip 4 - Ask if it’s OK before giving someone feedback.💡

Virtual feedback

“Hi Noel, how are you? I just wanted to drop a message to say the meeting earlier wasn’t great. I think you should focus more on facilitating the timings (like Adelaida did the other day). Thanks.”

Emails and Slack serve their purpose but are not the right tools for giving feedback.

If it’s important enough to give your feedback then take the time to choose a way that allows for a real-time conversation. The best choice always being a face to face conversation.

💡Top Tip 5 - Avoid written feedback. Talk to people!💡

How many of these are familiar? How many of these have you done yourself?

We’re not going to judge you for it. We’ve seen it. We’ve done it ourselves. We all know it’s out there.

In each of these examples, the feedback given has a very poor signal to noise ratio. The feedback is in there somewhere, but the chances of it landing cleanly are small.

Next time you notice yourself starting to use one of these patterns, try our top tips instead.

What feedback fails did we miss? Please add them in the comments below.

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