Five Tips For Giving And Receiving Feedback For Performance Enhancement
“Can I give you feedback?”
It's interesting how five simple words can make your heart beat faster and your blood pressure rise. Feedback conversations can activate a social threat response, where the brain thinks you’re in danger and gets you ready to react. This state of stress results in a decrease in cognitive functions, rendering it impossible to focus on or make sense of any information. The brain just wants out.
Despite this negative impact, giving and receiving feedback is essential to the development of an effective, efficient team. So what's the best way to do it?
After spending hours delivering 360 feedback to hundreds of managers for a corporate contract, I mastered the art of providing constructive, supportive feedback that leaders could work with. The following tips can help you undertake non-threatening, growth-oriented feedback conversations so that you may support, empower, teach and coach your team to fulfill their potential while getting great results.
1. Lean into positivity.
In his book Social, Matt Lieberman explains the human brain’s reward system responds to positive feedback in practically the same way as it responds to a positive physical stimulation, like eating your favorite ice cream. As such, positive social feedback motivates employees and reinforces positive behavior, increasing the likelihood of the behavior being repeated. Most people know when they failed or didn’t get things right and are likely already reproaching themselves. Inviting a conversation about how things could be done differently and contributing suggestions to the dialogue gives you the opportunity to offer feedback in a way that helps them progress and moves them forward without negatively impacting their confidence level.
Consider exploring performance feedback through simple questions including:
- What went right?
- What did you do well?
- What should you do more of?
2. Remember, feedback is all about perspective.
Whether giving or receiving feedback, it’s important to remember that feedback is all about perspective. The message being delivered isn’t necessarily an objectively based fact. Instead, the person providing the feedback is sharing their perspective or worldview based on how they are wired—how they see things or might have done things differently. This is often rooted specifically in personality preferences, and there are no right or wrong ones—just different ones.
Take for instance a client’s leader who tells him he did it wrong and how he should have done it another way. There’s no guarantee that their way would lead to different results since the client’s brain is wired differently than the leader's and he wouldn't necessarily execute it the same way the leader would.
Rather than dictate the approach, spend time identifying the desired result, consider the approach that was taken and where the glitch took place, then coach them to identify their next steps. This way you will build your team member's capabilities and avoid having to take it on yourself. Plus, you may discover an entirely different solution!
This doesn't mean that all feedback should be written off as subjective and therefore worthless. It actually presents the opportunity to recontextualize our relationship with said feedback and view it through the lens of a mentorship opportunity—a chance for sharing advice, picking brains and dialoguing on a more personal, one-to-one level while ensuring this isn't one of our blind spots.
3. Set team members up for success.
The best sort of feedback is regular and consistent feedback. By keeping the lines of communication open with your team members, you’re giving them the tools they need to keep doing what works, to course-correct on trouble spots and to fulfill their potential to the utmost.
In my experience, hosting quick once-a-week check-ins provides a great opportunity to highlight wins, chat about opportunities, trouble-shoot hot spots and plan for what’s to come. This way, when the time comes for the year-end review, there are no surprises—just celebrations!
4. Tackle necessary negative feedback.
Let's face it: Sometimes, despite our best efforts, it’s necessary to provide negative feedback. However, we're not talking about feedback in the form of a traditional dressing-down. Instead, turn negative feedback into an opportunity for dialogue and learning by employing the following framework:
- Intention. State that you recognize your team member's intention was likely not meant to have a negative impact.
- Action/Behaviour/Communication (ABCs). Then, describe the negative action or behavior or the way they communicated.
- Impact. Next, touch on the impact you witnessed or experienced.
- Outcome. Finally, discuss the outcome that was a result of the behavior.
By taking this approach, the discussion focuses on the ABCs from an impact standpoint as opposed to focusing on a perceived failing in your team member themselves. This allows them to approach the feedback from an objective perspective that looks specifically at the course of events and the impact they are having on others, opening the door to dialogue and the chance for self-improvement.
5. Focus on enhancing rather than improving performance.
This last tip points to the leadership promise of empowering people to fulfill their potential by shifting the focus from “performance improvements” to “performance enhancements.” Enhancing an individual's talents, skills and capabilities enables them to elevate their performance even further.
Seemingly a minor detail, the focus shines a light on how language matters in these conversations, and how a leader’s approach to feedback has a very real impact on the nature and efficacy of these conversations. After all, that’s what forward-thinking leaders do: They enhance their team members' skills and talents through feedback so that all can benefit and find success.
Once mastered, giving and receiving feedback can unlock and empower the potential of your entire team. Creating an environment where feedback is given constructively, received openly and asked for proactively will enable everyone to take full advantage of the opportunity for knowledge-sharing that feedback ultimately represents. The result? A win-win scenario for leaders and team members alike—just the way feedback should be!