When I’m working with people in organisations, large and small, one of the comments I frequently hear is “we don’t get enough feedback”. Now that’s rarely the case. However, what the people are really saying is “we don’t get enough good quality performance feedback”. “We don’t understand the message”. “We don’t get feedback that’s clear and adds value to our performance”.
What is feedback?
Feedback is any communication, whether non-verbal or verbal, that gives somebody information about how they are impacting other people or a situation. We are giving and receiving feedback constantly. It’s impossible that you are not giving out some feedback. The real challenge with feedback is that the message is typically very unclear; and there are very many reasons why that might be.
One of the prime ones is the amount of risk involved in giving the feedback. The more clear the message, the greater the risk, and the risk is to the individual who is the giver of the feedback. One of the challenges is that people are frightened by how people might react, and as a consequence they fuzz up the feedback; they soften it or they get very vague in how they describe things. But a bigger challenge than that is that your feedback is just your opinion. That’s all it is. Now you may feel you have a block vote because of your status, your position in the organisation, but in principle feedback is simply your opinion.
How can I improve the quality of performance feedback I give?
The first step in improving the quality of performance feedback you give to people is to position your feedback as your opinion. Notice how often, when people are giving feedback, they position their opinion as a fact; “the trouble with you is” “you always” “what you do is”. This positions the feedback as a fact rather than their opinion, and then they are surprised when people start resisting – sometimes quite strongly. So with feedback, number one tip, position it as your opinion. Use phrases like: “what I’ve noticed is”, “in my view”, “I think”. It’s a lot harder for somebody to say “no you don’t”. It therefore moves the focus of the conversation onto the issue rather than the way you are giving feedback.
So being able to give high quality performance feedback is a vital skill we all need in all aspects of life; particularly in our business lives. If you want to improve the quality of your feedback, you need to take more risk, and start by positioning your comments as your opinion, not as a fact.