We all want to grow as people, and our professional lives are no exception. We desire success and to feel valued, but we can’t do it alone. Feedback from others helps us improve and see things from a different perspective. Yet it isn’t always easy delivering or receiving feedback. Our egos ofttimes get in the way and make it difficult to accept criticism, and it’s hard to strike a delicate balance of offering helpful feedback that doesn’t go too far.
Delivering effective and assistive feedback is something every leader needs to master. But even if you aren’t in a leadership role, if you work with other people, you’ll eventually have to offer feedback. Make sure the feedback you offer is both helpful and respectful by following these tenets.
“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” -Bill Gates
Choose the right time
Feedback is often in reaction to some sort of mistake, and sometimes, those mistakes are big ones. But don’t react in the heat of the moment, and remember that hindsight is 20/20.
Monica Torres writes about the balance between reacting too soon, while emotions are raw and too late, where the colleague might not learn the lesson or both parties will remain stressed. It’s important to take time to find perspective, give the other person an opportunity to correct their mistake in their own ways, and find the right way to address the person.
Be emphatic and consider what the other person is going through. They may not be in the headspace to take your feedback to heart if it’s too soon. If possible, provide the necessary feedback in private. A good way for your thoughts to fall on unlistening ears is to make someone feel called out in front of the team.
“Put things into perspective so that you can have the discussion in a better mood.” –Andres Lares
Focus on the issues and offer solutions
Even when you choose the right time and place, it can still be difficult communicating your feedback. People are often afraid of criticism, and it’s incredibly easy to phrase something in a way that makes the other person defensive.
CNBC Make It’s Aditi Shrikant suggests avoiding any phrasing that implies blame. The words you pick should include encouragement, so avoid phrases like “You should have..” or “If I were you…”
Make sure to focus on the specific issues both for clarity and to prevent someone from getting defensive. They’ll know the exact issue you’d like to discuss, and by focusing on the issue instead of them as a person, they’ll be much more receptive.
“If you are the feedback recipient and someone is pointing out an error or mistake but you’re not really clear on what went wrong or what the result was, that’s not really useful.” -Gianna Driver
Finally, make sure to offer solutions as part of your feedback and offer to be a part of that solution. Tangible actions reinforce the idea that an issue is a problem, not a person. And Monica Torres notes that your kindness helps your team member recover after a mistake and prevents them from lashing back.
Create a culture of feedback
Feedback should offer tangible ways to improve and suggestions on what can be done differently. But that feedback will have more impact if it comes from a culture of feedback. A culture where feedback is consistently received—and given—will allow your team to take that feedback to heart with more frequency.
Forbes’ Claire Schmidt suggests that this culture starts from the top. Create channels of feedback, including regular performance reviews, project reviews, anonymous platforms for communication, and surveys. This proves your organization welcomes communication and provides multiple avenues for feedback to be given or received.
Be able to receive feedback
Because a culture of feedback starts from the top, you need to be open to receiving feedback of your own. Someone is much more likely to accept the opinion of someone that listens to them as well.
If you’re in a leadership role, respectfully listening to feedback makes you much more approachable and paints you as an empowering leader, according to SuperBeings’ Dhanashree Jadhav. But even if you aren’t in a leadership role, the same philosophy applies. A team member is going to be more accommodating and collaborative if you’ve shown a pattern of thoughtfulness in the past, and they’ll know your feedback is from a place of respect.
It’s easy to view feedback as an attack or criticism, but by helping create the right culture, you’ll know it comes from a good place.
By choosing your moments, focusing on actions, and offering solutions, you’ll offer effective feedback that won’t come across as an attack. By building a culture of feedback and being open to feedback of your own, you’ll create an atmosphere of camaraderie where team members aren’t afraid of growth opportunities. We all want to improve. Sometimes, it just takes a friendly peer to figure out how.