Giving Feedback

Feedback is incredibly important as it is the only way we learn and grow. In a recent post I discussed receiving feedback, how you can learn from it and what you can do with it – but feedback is a loop, and now that we have discussed receiving it, we need to discuss giving it.

Returning to the case study from the previous article; Tom, Jean’s manager, had identified that Jean was repeatedly making the same mistake in her interactions with her team and had chosen to give her that feedback.

The Problem:

I often hear the statement that “This person is/has been performing poorly”, but “poor performance” isn’t the starting point, it is the end result – something came before “performing poorly”.

When Tom gave Jean feedback, how did he do it? Did he check her understanding? Tom admitted to having seen Jean make the same mistake in the past, why did he wait before addressing it? What does “performing poorly” mean to Tom, or to Jean?

The Approach:

Feedback loops can be positive or negative; you get out what you put in, so what was Tom putting in? The theory of Transactional Analysis states that a conversation between two people is actually an interaction between six schema’s – each person has three schemas (sometimes referred to as ‘states’), Parent, Adult, and Child. The Parent speaks down to others, the Adult speaks to others as an equal, and the Child comes from a position of powerlessness, seeking to minimise themselves, shift blame or reluctantly obey and do the bare minimum.

Ideally, in the work environment, you want people to speak through their Adult states, as this allows for mutual cooperation and encourages further communication.

The Expectations:

When Tom set his expectations, how did he make them clear to Jean, if at all? At the same time – does Tom understand his expectations himself?

Where do these expectations come from? What are they for? Are they departmental/organisational requirements? Are they directly related to the task at hand and, if so, in what way? What is the minimum viable product and what will it be used for? Who is this product/service for and what are they like? What, specifically, does Tom need to make this happen? What counts as success here?

We can only turn to Jean after all these questions have been answered.

We are so pressed for time that we often shortchange our own thinking, causing managers to turn into robots, passing commands over to workers and assuming they will be understood clearly the first time.

The Relationship:

The next question is to do with Tom’s relationship to Jean – what does Tom want their relationship to be like after the feedback session?

Remember, feedback is a loop. As a manager, Tom may feel he can order his employees around and that they are compelled to listen to him – but how does he want future interactions to go? Does he want relationships that are at the least civil? Does he want a team of robots who do exactly what they’re required to do and nothing more, or does he want to foster relationships that are open, trusting and collaborative?

The Language

And the final question is this: what is Jean’s learning style/language?

When giving feedback, it is a case of “less of me, more of you” – are you clearly communicating so you can understand, or so that the listener can understand? As an example, I am a visual learner, so in my case things just click for me when I get to see the requirement as a picture, mock-up or flow diagram. Did Tom customise his communication for maximum impact? Does Jean prefer written feedback, does she want it in brief or longform, or does she want to participate in a dialogue?

You will find that the moment you use their language, you will have a more actively engaged audience, and soon the listener will start to use your language as well.

Giving feedback makes us just as vulnerable as receiving it, but speaking as equals, and making an effort to meet people at their level will make a world of difference.