Feedback 101

Feedback 101

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There is so much trepidation around the process of feedback. The process can go wrong in so many ways, yet there are ways that the process strengthens the bond between a leader and his team. Below is an exchange between a manager and a team member, think back to your experiences as you read this.

Jonas– Hi Rita, Can I speak with you for a min?

Rita– Hey Jonas, sure I have been meaning to talk to you about something as well.

Jonas– Can that wait? I really need to give you feedback about this presentation you sent me.

Rita– Oh alright, please tell me.

Jonas– Rita, I think I have been consistently noticing that you have been making glaring mistakes in every presentation you send across. It’s just not up to mark. I have told you this is for an important client. I don’t know how many times I’ll have to repeat myself.

Rita– (Looks very sad and confused) I am not sure where I went wrong… I’d really like it if you could help me with.

Jonas– Rita, you shouldn’t be asking me such basic questions, you are highly qualified. You must learn on the job, rather you should have learnt by now. Please rectify these mistakes and send it across to me by 5.

Rita– (still very sad and confused) Alright Jonas.

(Names have been changed for privacy)

When I first heard my friend “Rita” describe this interaction she had with her manager. I could feel her anxiety and disappointment. Rita, has always been the top of her class, she’s always shown enthusiasm and taken up challenges with a smile. She’s always been enterprising about learning and growing. However, her boss Jonas has been constantly annoyed with her. She tries her very best to understand the feedback but she’s not able to show him a significant change. Rita one day broke down to me and said, “I just don’t think I can work anymore. I don’t enjoy what I do and it’s getting really frustrating to deal with Jonas.” Needless to say, Rita soon changed jobs, we’ll revisit what her new job is like in a bit.

It’s no surprise that how one delivers feedback can play a monumental role in strengthening or weakening a leader-follower relationship.  Feedback is not only meant to help the employee improve their performance but a way to show that growth and learning are top most priorities for the manager. Sometimes it can be very daunting to give feedback and the following points will cover some basic things to keep in mind through this process:

Different Strokes for different folks – People are unique in the way they approach things and situations. We may be tempted to provide feedback the way we normally do or normally feel like should be done. Some of us like to cut to the chase and state our opinions, while others really like to address the process and want to go about it in a collaborative manner. Whatever process we may be comfortable with, may not apply to our direct reports. The aim of a feedback should always be to add on and help the employee grow. Without this as a central need, the feedback starts to seem like an attack or criticism.

Clear, reflective and Concrete- The feedback is always about the action not the person. Therefore, providing a clear, specific and concrete feedback becomes very crucial. Feedback that is convoluted and does not offer clear to do’s and not to do’s often gets ignored or heard in the wrong way. Before you think about offering feedback, write down answers for questions like: 1) What will this feedback achieve/lead to? 2) What aspect do I want to provide feedback on and why? 3) What could have been done differently? 4) How will this employee effectively work on this feedback to make the process better? 5) Is there anything that I can do to support this employee?  

Don’t shy away from the negatives- While there is constant emphasis on being constructive there can be a tendency to move away from the negatives. It’s not the negatives that are “harmful” but the way in which the negatives are conveyed. Everyone is constantly trying to better themselves, in fact many prefer being told what should be improved and what went wrong. Negatives in this case are essential blocks that help one overcome challenge faced in work. The best way to convey negatives is to focus on the action and not the person themself. Saying things like “Can we look at ABC process instead of XYZ?” “Do you feel that this method seems a little out of date?”

Feedback is a dialogue not a monologue – Something to always remember is that feedback is a two-way street. Let’s revisit our vignette where Rita tried talking to Jonas before he started telling Rita what was wrong with the presentation. Not only did Jonas shut down Rita’s concerns but by listing out issues and communicating that mistakes are no longer expected from her, the psychological contract between them was violated. A dialogue is very important because it provides a chance to understand where the other person is coming from and a chance to mutually look for ways to tackle the issue.

These pointers can be inculcated over time. Giving feedback is both an art and a science. One must adopt an empathetic yet genuine approach to providing feedback. Rita now works in a different firm and manages a team of her own. She, of course approaches the feedback process with a very different approach from Jonas. She seeks support from her own manager who is constantly encouraging Rita to collaborate with her team. The relationship between Rita and her manager is a reflection of Rita’s relationship with her team.

Being a manager indeed produces its own set of challenges, it can be very confusing and at times we may end up losing grip when we intended for the opposite to happen. Are you struggling with issues like this? Are you are trying to create a culture of openness and respect in your teams? Lay a good foundation for your team to grow. Feel free to write to us at to know more about our programs and trainings.

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