Feedback is information about past behavior delivered in the present which may impact future behavior. Ken Blanchard says that “Feedback is the breakfast (and lunch, dinner and midnight snack) of champions.” Why is feedback so important? In a nutshell, without it, you don’t know what you are doing well and how you can improve.
Positive feedback is used to thank and praise other people. It is easy to give and doesn’t take much pre-planning. Constructive feedback is clearly more difficult, but it is essential for productive relationships and workplaces. Over my career, I have observed that most people don’t do constructive feedback very well. Why? Because we tend to avoid conflict and don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings.
So, what can we do? Here are some essentials to delivering constructive feedback in a professional and effective manner.
- Don’t initiate a feedback conversation when you are angry. It will never go well! Practice the pause and come back to it when you are in a calmer state of mind.
- Make sure that you have balanced positive feedback with constructive feedback over time. Some sources say that we need three instances of positive feedback to every criticism to maintain a positive relationship.
- Prepare in advance! The model shared below can be very helpful.
- Tell the story of what happened, focusing on the behavior and not the person or their intentions.
- Make the feedback specific, actionable, and timely (as close to the event as possible).
- Use a feedback loop to make sure the other person understood what you communicated.
- Tailor your feedback approach to the individual. Not everyone responds to feedback in the same way. Some like it direct and others may need you to sugarcoat it a bit.
In my work as a Human Resources Consultant, I teach the 4- step BEAN model to guide constructive feedback conversations. Here is how it works:
- Describe the Behavior
Be descriptive, timely, and use “I” statements.
- Describe the actual or potential Effect of the behavior
Share what happened or what could happen because of the behavior.
- Ask for input and explore alternatives
Pause and ask the other person to share their thoughts.
- Determine Next steps.
Work together towards a mutually agreeable solution.
Let’s work through an example:
Negative Nelly is a member of a project team you are leading. In the meeting today, you asked team members for their suggestions and Nelly said, “I don’t know why you are asking. You are going to do what you want anyway.” After the meeting, you decide that you are going to give Nelly feedback. You could approach the situation as follows using the BEAN model:
- Behavior – Nelly, I was bothered by a comment that you made in the meeting today. When I asked for feedback, you said you didn’t know why I was asking because I was going to do what I wanted anyway.
- Effect – This seemed to make others hesitant to share and took the meeting in a negative direction.
- Ask for input – What makes you feel this way? Is there a reason that you feel that your comment needed to be shared in that forum? What else would you like to share about the situation?
- Next steps – So, next time you have a concern related to the project, you will share it with me privately and we can discuss it, rather than in a public forum.
Will these feedback conversations always go well? Despite your best efforts, you may run into defensiveness or deflection at times. However, using these tips can help increase the potential for success. As a result, you will have more effective relationships, more engaged team members, and a stronger organization.