“Do I really have to give Henry all this feedback?”, asked Jennie looking through the five-page appraisal the human resource executive had just handed to her. “His communication seems to be poor, should we even keep him here?”. The HR executive stared at her blankly. Jennie’s face clearly displayed distress. She loved her job as the new manager of the East Asian account of the technology company she was working for, but having to take her team through the annual appraisal was not something she looked forward to.
Whether it is at work, among friends and family or within a romantic relationship, giving and receiving feedback is something we all seem to hesitate about. To most, asking for feedback feels like a distraction. It seems unnecessary. On the other hand, giving feedback seems needlessly negative and a burden to consider. It is something people seem to avoid. However, many don’t realize that feedback can determine the quality of a task, a relationship and predict the outcome of a situation. The word “feedback” has been thrown around so often in business articles, relationship advice forums and at conferences, it’s easy to forget the core of why feedback is important in the first place.
The importance of feedback in any setting can’t be understated. It is a fundamental pillar of a success. Without feedback, rarely will we recognize when good is done or when improvements need to be made. Constructive feedback can be defined as the helpful information or criticism about prior action or behavior from an individual, communicated to another individual (or a group) who can use that information to adjust and improve current and future actions and behaviors.
Feedback helps you make better decisions. The millennial generation especially thrive when constructive feedback is given. This is because they are constantly seeking methods to become the best version of themselves and also have a strong desire for social approval compared to the previous generations. When you stop to take the time to listen to what your employees are saying about what’s happening on a daily basis, you can unlock an incredible amount of insight to anything. Feedback helps improve performance. This is when feedback is given in such a way that individuals can incorporate it to better themselves. Feedback also makes you a better leader and a better manager. In a 2013 study discussed in Forbes, researchers found that leaders who gave honest feedback were rated as five times more effective than ones who do not. In addition, leaders who gave honest feedback had employees who were rated as three times more engaged.
It is important to understand that not all feedback can be or will be constructive. Some feedback can break down people. It can even lead to decrease in performance, avoidance behaviour, decreased quality of relationships, lowered organizational commitment, and quitting altogether.
Therefore, understanding when and how to give feedback is essential. One common method recommended to give such constructive feedback is The Sandwich Method.
The Sandwich Method of giving constructive feedback requires one to start with an affirming statement first. For example, you may start with saying something good about the performance of the person. Then you can pair the negative feedback with a discussion on how to improve performance. Once this is done, the conversation must end on a positive note as well. This method may seem straight forward enough, but requires practice and time to master. Do bear in mind. At the end of the day, feedback is all about the manner in which you master the language. Sometimes you can say something negative without sounding negative. For example, say “I know you have been trying hard to improve your performance and I appreciate it. Can we discuss further ways to achieve this?” instead of “your performance is still poor”; or saying “I don’t think marketing is the right choice for you. However, you seem to be very good at planning and organizing things. What do you think?” instead of “you are not very good at marketing”.
Helpful feedback is specific. It is time specific and also task specific. It clearly states how to improve (i.e. action points). If possible, it is important to break down these action points into smaller, easily achievable goals. For example, rather than asking the employee to improve communication skills, you can discuss with them how to improve specific aspects of communication skills such as (1) using affirming statements, (2) listening skills and (3) paraphrasing skills. Constructive feedback should be given during the right time in the right place. Sometimes, giving feedback in front of others may intimidate or embarrass the employee. Therefore, picking a place that will enable you to have an open conversation is essential.
Learning the art of giving constructive feedback takes time and practice. Thinking of what to say, when to do it and how to handle any reaction is important. Feedback should be given with the intention of building someone up rather than breaking them down. Constructive feedback that
is vital to employees’ ongoing development. Feedback clarifies expectations, helps people learn from their mistakes and builds confidence. Thus, it should be made an essential practice not only in the workplace, but also within personal relationships.
Written by Hansini Gunasekara (BSc (Hons), MSc)