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Five tips to giving feedback

I’ve experienced first hand the devastation that negative feedback can have on a person. I’ve also seen the demoralising effect on the team when an individual’s poor performance is ignored. Is there a right way or a wrong way to give feedback?

Recently I had to give someone some pretty tough feedback about their social skills, and how their impact was being felt and perceived by others. I had been dreading this conversation, but knew that I needed to step up and have the conversation; partly for my personal sanity but also because I genuinely liked the person’s partner and wanted to do the right thing by them. I was pleasantly surprised by how well the conversation went. As a result, I wanted to share with you how I was able to give constructive feedback in a positive manner.

1. Don’t shy away from the conversation

Often, the longer you leave it, the harder it will become for you to have the conversation. The best time to give constructive feedback is as soon as you can have the conversation in private, after the event.

2. Be specific

When giving feedback, whether positive or negative, I recommend that people use a model called SBO, which stands for Situation – Behaviour – Outcome. For example:

Instead of “… you annoy people in meetings…”, say:

“In the meeting, (Situation)

“When you interrupt people and talk over them, (Behaviour)

“You come across as very aggressive, and people get annoyed with you.” (Outcome)

3. Be clear about what you do want to happen and what you don’t want to happen

This is a great technique, which I learnt after reading Crucial Conversations, a fabulous book for handling important conversations. For example:

“I’m having this conversation because I want to see you be more successful in meetings. I don’t want you to think that I’m getting at you, or for you to think that I think you’re incapable. I do want you to be listen and digest this feedback carefully – and I don’t want you to dismiss the feedback as not important. I am giving you this feedback because I want to see your career develop further in this firm, and in my opinion, changing this behaviour will have a positive impact on your career development.”

4. Listen for their reaction

If the person receiving the feedback starts to be defensive, emotional or tries to avoid the conversation, then you need to make the conversation safe again, before you give more of the feedback.

One of the best ways of making the conversation safe, is to state again what you do and don’t want to happen as a result of the conversation.

5. Work with their agenda

Feedback works best if you’re genuinely giving feedback to a person because you have a supportive purpose. If you’re “hacked off” with another person, this isn’t the right time to give them feedback. (Wait until you have calmed down, and are able to see a genuine benefit for the other person to want to receive your constructive feedback.)

For example, I genuinely wanted to help the person I gave the feedback to, as I knew that the feedback I could give him could measurably improve his business. As he had a young family, it was important to me that he succeeded in his business.

Heather Townsend, Britain’s queen of networking, is the founder of The Efficiency Coach, a company that helps professionals achieve better business results for less effort. Follow her Joined Up Networking blog for more useful tips and tricks. She has just been commissioned to write the FT Guide to Business Networking.


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