Updated: Dec 15, 2021
I was very happy to hear that you enjoyed the Episode on “The art of delivering negative feedback” and I decided to record a new episode where I share with you some tips and tricks to give feedback in various contexts: workplace, relationships and parenting. These tips are applicable to any situation!
The examples come from my personal life and from the material I studied when I was preparing to become a Manager in Corporate. Even if I ended up founding my own business, the knowledge I accumulated stayed with me and it benefits me a lot in my life!
This is why I always encourage everyone to learn new things in any setting, because even if the direction of your life sometimes takes unexpected turns, the knowledge sticks with you; the person you have become stays with you.
In this article, I will share some tips and tricks I learned over time, in no particular order, hoping you can find value and benefit in various situations.
What are the characteristics of great feedback?
Feedback is underrated. Very few people deliver feedback and receive feedback the right way, hence the importance of this question to understand how we can become effective Leaders in the household, in the workplace, and in life.
1. Feedback should be timely
Never mention something that happened a long-time ago. In behavioural science, there is a personality trait, called steadiness, accentuated in people who need longer to think and process emotions before speaking up. This can be a problem with feedback!
Imagine if a Manager tells you “Last month you made this mistake”. How can you remember what happened last month?
This situation frequently happens in relationships too, where your partner starts remembering all the situations in the past when you did something wrong. You probably do not even know what to say.. “I am sorry, I guess?”. You might not even remember the situation!
Feedback should always be timely, and if steadiness is a trait of yours, make the effort to call it when you see it! Instead of taking a week to process it, address the issue immediately because otherwise the receiver will tell you “I actually have no idea of what you are talking about”.
2. Once you give feedback, forget the past. Look forward!
I remember my Manager telling me to phrase client emails in a different way. After a couple of days, he got back to me: “You did it again! I told you to phrase this differently!”. “No I did not! Are you sure?”. He opened the inbox and opened the email: “Of course I am sure, look!”.
It turns out that the email was from a week before, but he gave me the feedback two days prior. Since he told me, I had been phrasing it correctly.
Even if my manager had good intentions, the situation was quite embarrassing. If you give feedback, the past is forgotten. Look at the future!
3. Start humble and understand the context
This is crucial. A one-time occurrence might not be worth being pointed out. Look for patterns rather than occasional occurrences because you never know what people are going through in a given day. It might just be a bad day. Be kind and ask curious questions to understand the situation.
Ex: “I only found out this recently, I spoke with Julie and she said that you were unhappy about this, can you give me some background on what happened?” This approach sits much better with the receiver. We, as Leaders, must give people the possibility to explain!
It happened to me very recently to receive a feedback from an upset client. Thankfully, before accusing the coach, I asked her open questions and it turned out that, with high probability, the coach was right, not the client. Hadn’t I asked in a nice and curious way, I wouldn’t have known. Start humble, understand the context.
4. Never use the words “always” and “never”
We often make this mistake in relationships. “You always do this!” or “You never do that!”. Come on, never never? For instance, you might have said “You never take down the trash” in the attempt of pointing out that you would like this person to make more effort in the household.
Always/never is not a good way of delivering feedback because it is impossible to quantify the never and the always. Be more specific with the feedback!
5. Select the right method of delivery
In the workplace, use a mix of written and spoken feedback, but mostly favour in-person feedback because it allows you to empathize with the colleague and show how much you truly care. Unfortunately, several employees are passive aggressive, conflict avoidant.
A Manager, for instance, might send you feedback emails and then avoid direct confrontations at work. How would you feel? Would you respect them? This is not the manager I would like to have. I would like a Manager who is willing to discuss a problem.
6. Use an open body language + kind tone
Do not cross your arms, do not have an angry expression. Instead, smile, use a kind and calm tonality when you speak. Remember: the aim is not to fight! We tend to forget this, especially at home. How many times we give or receive feedback, and we end up fighting?
The aim is not to fight. The aim is to make a suggestion that could make this employee more productive at work, or the relationship between your spouse and your parents more pleasant.
7. Do not rub it in
If your partner did something that hurt you, you may be angry at them and you may want them to suffer a bit. At work, if your direct-report made a huge mistake and your supervisor got angry at you, you might get angry at your employee.
Whatever happens, in any situation, when you offer feedback, watch your mouth. People know they are wrong, you do not need to remind them.
This was a great learning because I thought I had to show they were wrong, but it turns out people know it and when you mention it they get very defensive.
Therefore, mention what the other person did wrong, but do not put the accent on it. Put the emphasis on what we could accomplish, at work, in a relationship, if we did things differently! You will see that people welcome your feedback!
8. Never judge and always assume good faith
Never presume. A part of healthy culture is assuming good intentions of people. I know that you might have the temptation, as a manager or partner, to think for the worst.
Ex: An employee working from home disappears for 1 hour. Are the sleeping? Are they playing videogames? You do not know and you must assume good faith because maybe their parents did not feel well and they were helping out.
Remember, everyone is innocent until proven guilty! The best Leaders assume good intentions and understand the full picture before speaking.
I once “accused” a colleague of not being proactive in reaching out to a client and I then found out she tried calling him over 10 times. I did not know and I should not have assumed before having a comprehensive overview of the situation.
9. Be relevant - do not waste people’s time
Some Managers will schedule weekly meetings with you just because they have to do it. They will give you pathetic feedback which is not even relevant. Therefore, ask yourself: is it important to meet up? Elon Musk said that it is fine to leave a meeting if nothing of value is being discussed.
If you do not have weekly insights, schedule bi-weekly meetings (unless you want to make the employee feel listened to, in this case a weekly meeting is effective).
For the receiver to appreciate your feedback, they need to understand what’s in it for them if they implement the feedback. Give a good reason for your suggestion. What’s in it for them if they change behaviour? Explain how things will change for the best if the feedback is implemented: "In this exact situation, if you take this action instead, it will lead to this result, which is way better".
10. Praise in public, criticize in private
This is something I learned the hard way. I love feedback, I ask for it and I give it, regardless of the setting. One day I gave a direct feedback to a teammate. A colleague saw me and she complained with our manager because she thought I had been too harsh in a public setting. Even if my teammate was perfectly happy and appreciative of my suggestions, I had to learn that praise, in companies, is public, while feedback is always shared in private.
This rule also applies to the field of relationships. I was once out with my girlfriend and our friends; we got into a heated conversation and my girlfriend supported my arguments 100%. But when we arrived at home, she started listing all the points she did not agree with. I was like “Woah! Wait a minute, I thought you agreed with me! You showed support!”. And her answer was mind blowing to me: “I will always support you in public, but I will always share what I think behind closed doors”. Not only I appreciated her respect and loyalty in public, but that was also a great relationship and feedback lesson: support your partner in public and criticize them in private, as opposed to making snide remarks with their friends.
11. Give time to the person to adjust
Many times, when we receive feedback, we get defensive. Most people have a hard time adapting to change and need some time to process the feedback before they can implement a different behaviour.
I know it sounds strange, but if someone does something wrong and you offer feedback, their first instinct might be to emphasize the wrong behaviour in the very short run. But then, of course, if you give them a bit more time, they will process the feedback, give it a thought, and implement it.
Do not expect that they will implement the feedback from the next minute!
12. Give feedback only if the action infringes on other people’s space/freedom
This is something difficult to understand for managers. Let me give you an example:
An ex-colleague of mine liked to work with small plants on her desk; one day, the company management instructed her to clean her space. Who was right: my colleague or the management? Studies show that a clean desk allows you to be more productive, however my colleague did not limit anyone’s freedom by putting cacti plants.
My belief is that if there is a personal preference that does not affect the team’s work, why forcing change? If the employee follows a preferred working style which does not affect others, what’s the problem? Give employees the freedom to organize themselves as they wish!
Before giving feedback, understand if the action impacts the employee only (it is a personal preference) or the team and the organization.
13. Do not give stupid feedback