What is feedback?

Let’s first start with the definition of feedback. Feedback is giving information to a person about his or hers actions in order to improve communication and the working process.
The term “feedback” is relatively new but widely spread today. It is especially so when we speak about business and work relations. It is important to clarify exactly what feedback is since the term is often misinterpreted. When we give feedback we offer our opinion to another person about their behavior and its effect on the working process and communication.
One of the cornerstones of proper feedback is clarity. It is of utmost importance to be very clear when giving feedback, to describe the whole situation, without leaving any curtail details out, but to also stay on point.
Another ground rule when giving feedback is the intention. The intention of the feedback must always be positive, thus making the process constructive, instead of destructive.

What feedback is not?

Perhaps by explaining what feedback isn’t, it will become much clearer what it actually is.
Feedback is not a pointless activity. That means that feedback is not something we say to someone else to unload, but rather a sequence of observations that lead to accomplishing a goal. That goal usually is better performance and higher productivity.
Feedback is not a one-time thing. It’s goal must be to build up someone’s skill set, be that communication-related or work task’s related. This is why it’s very important that the feedback is given regularly.
Feedback is not a monologue. Not only feedback’s purpose is not to create discomfort for someone, quite the opposite – it’s to help a person grow and flourish, but in order to be sure the person in question is paying attention to your remarks, there must be a dialogue.
And most importantly feedback must be used wisely – it is a very powerful tool to help others grow, to conduct their behavior at work in an acceptable manner and deal with conflicts, but when used incompetently it will hurt others. So feedback is definitely not a tool to use carelessly.

Why feedback is so important in the workplace?

As we mentioned feedback may actually do wonders. People usually like to be informed especially at the workplace.

Feedback as a tool to decrease and deal with conflicts

The “sandwich” type of feedback is perfect for that purpose. Conflicts at the workplace occur and there is no problem as long as they are dealt with promptly. Usually, the reason for the conflict is the difference in opinions between colleagues or employees and superiors that lead to emotional discomfort or say otherwise hurt feelings. In such a case it is important to settle things politely and well intended. The person, who starts giving the feedback first says something positive about the other person, then explains factually whatever the problem is and finalizes giving the feedback by saying something positive again. It is expected by the person receiving the feedback to respond similarly – with a positive statement, then reflection on the problem and promise to take action to improve the situation.

Feedback as a tool to improve communication

For that purpose comes in handy the “I feel” kind of feedback. The idea here is to state very clearly how you feel when someone else is doing something that disrupts your piece. For example “When you click nervously with your pen I can’t concentrate on my tasks”. Then a solution must be proposed, like “Would it be o.k. for you to acquire a silent clicking pen?”. The person giving the feedback may also show interest in the other person’s life and offer help. “Do you know that constant clicking of the pen is a sign of stress? What makes you stressed? Perhaps I could help?” We must keep in mind that people rarely do the thing that annoys us on purpose; usually, they are unaware that their actions have that effect on us – that is why we should tell them but approach the subject delicately.
In conclusion, feedback is important because it eases communication at work and allows us to point out strong or weak threads, thus passing the ball to the other person to improve their performance.

Types of feedback

Feedback could be positive or negative. Thus far we talked almost exclusively about the negative feedback because the highlight of this article is to teach us how to give it and how to receive it.

The power of positive feedback

So – let’s just say a few words about positive feedback. We are saddened to say that positive feedback is often neglected, especially by those in managerial positions, but it is very important for the performance of the employees. It is as important to say you did that particular task very well, as it is to say that you didn’t and there is room for improvement. Positive feedback shouldn’t always come from the superiors. Colleagues must use it often, “You did a good job!” or “I’m impressed by your approach to that task.” may go a long way.

Negative feedback – destructive or constructive?

Negative feedback is used much more often than positive and that’s why we shall explore it further. Is “You suck!” feedback at all? No, it isn’t, because it doesn’t really give any useful information and the intention is to create discomfort and even pain. Although negative feedback is a sort of criticism to the receiving party it bears good intentions and the goal is to lead to the positive outcome. An example is “I noticed you struggle with the new system. What exactly do you find difficult? Can I assist you?” Sounds different, doesn’t it?

Giving negative feedback

There are a few rules to be followed when giving negative feedback, such as:
– Give the negative feedback timely. It is one thing to say “I just saw you talking on the phone, you know company policy prohibits it” and jet another to say “You are talking on the phone all the time”. In the first example, we point out the problem at its occurrence and also give a chance to the other person to reason his or hers actions. In other words, we deal with the problem when it starts and has much higher chances to destroy it from the roots. In the second example, we blame the other person, without any concrete evidence.
– Point out your intentions – why this is important. “You seem to be taking too long performing that task. This is important to you because your bonus depends on it and it’s important to me because the team can’t get the work finished in time. Let’s analyze together what the reason may be and take action to improve your performance.”
– Propose solution. Most of the time negative feedback wouldn’t accomplish anything, without reaching a solution to the problem at hand. For example: “I noticed you have troubles working with the new printer. I could show you how to use it if you want?”.
– Keep the feedback coming. It is very important for the employees to know what they do right and what they do wrong. If there is no one to guide them, then they will keep doing the same mistakes over and over again.
– Keep feedback a dialogue – it is a good idea to give the new employees a feedback training so they know how to give it and how to take it. After all, feedback must be a dialogue, otherwise is just wasted time.

How to receive negative feedback

Receiving the negative feedback properly is as much important as giving it right. Here are a few tips about receiving negative feedback:
– Keep in mind that it is to your benefit. Usually, whoever is giving you the feedback has nothing against you and is not mean or ill-minded – that person wants to help you do your job better. No one is born with all the necessary skills and often we need help and guidance.
– Perceive feedback as the highway fence – it helps you follow the road. Without it, you may eventually learn how to do the tasks correctly, but it will take you much more time and effort.
– Respond to the feedback thoughtfully. Do not get on the defensive right away. Think about it. Try to find a solution to the problem, or make a compromise and meet the other person halfway.
– Show good intentions. You may say “I didn’t realize that, but I will try to do it better next time.”
– Be active. Even if whoever is giving you the feedback does not do it correctly, that doesn’t mean you can’t answer correctly. If accused of something do not give meaningful excuses, but rather take the ball into your hands and assure the other person, that this will not happen again or that you will take actions to prevent it.
– Be honest and open. If your boss tells you “You are late for work every day” do not say “But is only 5 minutes, does it really matter?”, rather take responsibility for your actions and reason yourself “I’m sorry I have problems with my car engine lately …” and then offer the solution “… but a have an appointment at the car service Monday”.
A hint: Even if you are not really responsible for whatever you are blamed for by taking responsibility you may win more point than by defending yourself or searching for the “real person to blame”. “O.K. I will get right to it.” When “it” is not really your problem will get you much further than you believe. It may not be right away, but almost certainly you will receive “Thank you, I realize you’ve put some extra effort”.