Why the way you give feedback matters

At a recent Cabinet meeting, President Donald Trump reportedly chided his Homeland Security Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, for not doing enough to secure the country’s border with Mexico. An official at the meeting said the conversation was ‘angry and heated’.

Nielsen viewed the criticism as a personal attack that was carried out in a room full of colleagues. In the following days, the New York Times reported that she considered resigning after the incident.

While Nielsen would probably like to forget the encounter, the high-level  run-in does provide an example of the damage that poorly delivered feedback can cause.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. And President Trump, possibly, could change his ways.

For an effective manager, giving feedback is an essential tool. While feedback is sometimes hard to deliver, especially when the issue is poor performance, it provides an opportunity for managers to improve the performance of individuals and teams, and boost morale. Workplaces that encourage feedback in an open, non-judgemental environment are more productive and retain a happier workforce.

The key to giving effective feedback is preparation. The style, tone, language, setting and structure of the feedback must all be carefully considered, as should the objective of a conversation. Is the feedback to reinforce positive behaviour or change unsatisfactory behaviour, to introduce more productive work practices or to contribute to learning and development? Identifying the desired outcome can help inform how best to conduct the conversation.

For example, a conversation to change unsatisfactory performance should be private, timely—delivered as soon as possible after the behaviour is observed—and should reference specific examples of the conduct. Perhaps if the President had taken this approach, he would have a happier, more productive staffer.

Ultimately, feedback is both easier to deliver and more effective when it has been carefully planned and considered. A well-formulated plan sets professionals up for success in their roles and sets organisations up to perform more effectively.

Here are our tips for giving constructive feedback:

  • give feedback frequently—both positive and negative—but ensure it is always constructive
  • be specific and provide clear examples—don’t make general statements
  • focus on the action, not the person—leave personal judgement out of it
  • choose the right location—don’t give feedback in public as it only causes embarrassment and resentment
  • be open-minded and seek to understand the reason for the behaviour or action.

Our program

In a suite of programs aligned to needs at specific levels, Ethos CRS outlines the concepts and techniques that make managers more effective. The suite comprises:

  • Stepping up: essential skills for new managers
  • Stepping out: leadership skills for middle managers
  • Executive and strategic leadership
  • Managing mentoring and coaching
  • Managing teams for improved performance 
  • Creative thinking for teams.

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