People Management

Feedback: Was it right or wrong, if nobody’s telling you?

Photo by Adam Jang on Unsplash

I’ve been observing for years, in several companies, a behaviour that doesn’t serve anyone: waiting for the yearly evaluation to give negative feedback to someone (or not even then), pouring out everything that went bad that year. In the meantime, throughout the year, nobody’s saying a word up front and people just chat behind one’s back. That’s called gossip.

In corporate presentations, feedback is always a core value, put in there nicely, in a highlighted font, but few companies walk the talk, since organisational culture doesn’t align with Powerpoint, unless active measures are taken.

Let’s address the who, when, where, how and why-s of feedback.

Who should give feedback?

Anyone to anyone they’ve interacted with. You may encounter this as “360 feedback”. Yes, employees can give feedback to top managers if they’ve worked with them, as long as it’s feedback and not buttering up. Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of suck-ups. However, to give negative feedback to your superior, that’s something requiring some real… character!

When is it a good time to provide feedback?

As often as you have the chance. If you are able to give an objective feedback on things, people will open up and come to you more often, because they know they have a chance to improve, and not get kicked for free.

More effective than feedback can be the appraisal of a desirable behaviour. Let’s say one of you team mates has done an incredible job, or just something good like raising a risk early. Instead of trashing others around for not raising risks earlier, the key is to praise the behaviour you want to see repeating.

Where should feedback be provided, through which channels?

Anywhere. On Slack, Skype, Zoom, WebEx, you name it. Face to face if you can, over the phone if you can’t. What matters is the message.

How?

Most people see feedback as a form of criticism, which is entirely wrong, because these two are not synonyms. The way one expresses feedback, may turn it however into criticism.

If you’re talking to someone and say: “You’ve done a lousy presentation, it’s missing the essential numbers…”, it will get personal. You’ve just qualified someone’s work as shitty and most likely that person didn’t even catch the second part of the phrase. A subjective negative opinion is criticism.

A bit less useless, but still , not much you can do with it is saying just “I like it” or “I don’t like it”. That really doesn’t say much about what went well and what could have gone better.

Try saying instead: “I believe the presentation is missing some essential numbers, we’re going to need during the discussion…” – that’s constructive and it makes a good point. I’m observing that “it” has an issue, not the author, and I am telling you, so we can make it better. It’s objective. I’m not qualifying your work in any way, just noticing facts.

Why?

Because if you don’t, nothing is going to change. Don’t wait for people to “get it” aka read between the lines. I’ve been there, waiting for people to realize what went wrong, and it rarely happens.

When someone says just “I like it / I don’t like it” don’t settle for this. Push people to act like adults and express what they loved and what bothered them. Positive feedback has an enormous constructive potential which should be put to good use. Explore that potential!

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