Last week, I recorded a new podcast’s episode talking about feedback. The topic is interesting enough to devote also some lines here. Giving good feedback is an important skill for a leader to have, and yet one of the most difficult abilities to master.
Feedback is the corner stone to develop others: providing them with an educated opinion on how they could improve without hurting them or harming their self-esteem. That’s why giving good feedback is an art, always balancing the aim to provide a useful insight and the consideration for the other.
What should drive feedback is the intention behind. The intention to really help improve. Sticking to that good intention is key, so you can forget about yourself and focus on what really matters. It’s not about you; it’s about their needs.
This way of thinking also prevents you from falling into contempt or criticism. Both things provoke defensiveness in your audience, and thus make communication, and understanding, pretty difficult.
You should approach feedback as a conversation, in which you share your understanding, and therefore your views. From this perspective, you also need to be open to listen and understand; eventually you might need to fine tune your opinion in the light of something you didn’t know before.
Never forget, feedback is only an opinion. If you really want the other to improve, you must realize that there could be different ways to do it; and yours is only one of them. Detaching from your views helps on this.
Describe, not evaluate
The difference between good feedback and an opinion with good intention is the way you deliver it. Words matter.
Feedback must be based on observable facts which we need to describe. Description is the right beginning: I could see this. Then the impact was that. And the result was that. Stick to the facts.
While objectively describing facts, you can give the other the opportunity to raise awareness and, more important, give her the context to understand why you might be saying what you’re saying.
The difference between description and evaluation seems obvious, but people tend to mix it. One example. If I say, “he was angry. He didn’t like what you said”, that’s an evaluation according to my criteria. If I say, “he frowned and crossed arms while you were speaking”, I’m just describing what happened. No judgement.
After given context, you can then make your point. The more specific, the better. What exactly need to change? In what way? If you made a good work setting the context, you’ll find it easy to be specific in explaining the change. Again, avoid generalizations and focus on the concrete facts.
Lack of specificity make feedback useless. It is not about pointing out what didn’t work (or hasn’t work well) but providing a specific option to make it different in the future.
Good feedback is a muscle that should be trained. Don’t avoid it. It’s the way to achieve outstanding results.