HP Technology at Work

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Feedback that works

November 2014

Our daily lives revolve around people. Whether we’re at home with our family and friends, or at work with our colleagues. And because we are so dependent on the people around us for life to work, we have to communicate. If we don’t, problems or concerns tend to build up; and what started out as a ping pong ball could start feeling a lot more like a wrecking ball.
That’s why regular useful feedback is so invaluable. But giving feedback itself is not the key. It’s how you give feedback that could unlock a world of potential in the recipient. Here are five tips to help you give feedback that works.
Start by asking
The way you approach the act of giving feedback is paramount to the outcome. You could call a meeting with your colleagues without telling them what it’s about, just to bombard them with an evaluation the moment they’re seated. Or you could start by asking permission first. A simple, “Hey Tom, do you have time for some quick feedback later today?” will give your colleague ample time to get into the right frame of mind to receive it.
Paint the whole picture
The number one objective of your feedback should always be to help your colleagues, in a clear and constructive way, to do their tasks better. That is your goal. So you need to ask yourself, “What will motivate and inspire them to do that? And how can the feedback I give them enable them to do so?” If you do that, you’ll realize that simply listing a bunch of criticisms – some from four weeks back and others from yesterday – is everything but helpful.
Context is crucial. In order for your colleague to know why he or she did something in a certain way, and how to prevent it from happening again, your critique needs to be put into context. Doing that also makes it easier for your colleague to explain his or her actions at that time; giving you more insight into where they were coming from.
Be specific
Once you’ve put your feedback into context, it’s time to elaborate on the details. And be specific! We often make the mistake of thinking that it’s more polite to be vague, but all that does is create more confusion. Give your colleague concrete examples of the reason for your feedback. And make sure your examples are recent. “I’ve noticed that you’re often late to meetings,” is a lot less helpful than, “At our weekly meeting yesterday I noticed that you were 20 minutes late.”
Rather than simply stating the issue, also make sure to talk about the direct impact of the behaviour in question, “Because you were late, you only had 10 minutes to update us on your part of the project; leaving us with a bunch of unanswered questions.” By doing that the problem is depicted in a clear and concise way, making it easier to process and respond to.
Establish a two-way conversation
Just as important as it is for you to communicate your feedback in a helpful and effective way, you need to give your colleague the opportunity to respond. Pause, and let what you’ve said sink in and be chewed on for a minute or two.
Thereafter, it’s important to include at least one or two actionable steps that will help your colleague to better the situation. If time management is the issue at hand, suggest a few tips that have worked for you in the past. That way, you’re not simply criticizing, you’re also relating. Sharing tips that you use yourself to prevent the same thing from happening again shows your own fallibility, and makes it easier to receive input from you.
Ask for feedback on your feedback    
Seeing as there are always two parties involved, there’s always a chance that the person giving the feedback and the person receiving the feedback have very different opinions of how effective it was. You might walk away from the meeting satisfied and convinced that your point came across perfectly. Your colleague, on the other hand, might walk away feeling the exact opposite.
Take an honest look at the last three times you gave a colleague feedback. Ask yourself what prompted you to give the feedback, how you brought the content of your feedback across, and whether it made a difference. Ask the colleagues you gave feedback to the same questions and compare the answers.
Effective and constructive feedback could be a powerful tool in developing an individual’s capabilities. If communicated in the right way it could inspire them to expand their existing expertise, and help them identify skills they never knew they had. Let that be said of the feedback your colleagues receive from you.