Small Business Leadership: Effective Feedback

Effective Feedback SandwichGiving and receiving feedback is a leadership skill which creates a forum for open, constructive communication. The ability to give and receive feedback is needed for the growth and development of both leader and follower.

Feedback is the information one person gives another person about how their actions and/or behavior are impacting their outcomes. Feedback can be both positive and negative. It offers valuable information useful for the recipient regarding how they make decisions or adjust their behavior for more successful outcomes.

Feedback is not criticism. Criticism is evaluative; feedback is descriptive. Feedback provides information and opportunity to improve working relationships and can be used in improving performance.

Characteristics of effective feedback

  • Be specific. Avoid vague references and fully describe behavior and feelings.
  • Focus on the behavior not the person. All people can be sensitive. To avoid a sensitive response to feedback, focus on the behavior and steer clear of blame.
  • Share information. Avoid giving advice.
  • Keep it simple and concise. Avoid unwanted or unneeded details.

Tips for giving effective feedback

Timing is critical to effective feedback. It is always best to give feedback as quickly after the behavior has been observed as possible. Avoid giving negative feedback in public or when the receiver is emotional.

Take the time to prepare before you give feedback. Know what you will say and how you will say it. Be clear on the goal of the feedback you are giving.

Giving positive feedback is always easy. It simply requires you describe what you want to highlight and give a compliment. It might be followed with “keep up the great work!” Remember, this is the feedback people want most.

Giving critical feedback is a bit trickier but it does not have to be difficult. Critical feedback, while important, is not the feedback most people want — but it is feedback they need. If delivered appropriately, critical feedback can make a powerful difference in performance. One of the most effective ways to give feedback is simple. It is referred to as the “sandwich method” of communication.

The “sandwich” method of communication:

1. Start with a compliment, such as, “I really appreciate how hard you are working to complete this project.”

2. Follow that with the behavior which needs correcting. “I have noticed you are making a number of mistakes. Could it be you are rushing to complete the project?”

3. Finally, encourage change and offer support. “I know you can complete this project on time and with as little error as possible. You have my full support to take a few extra days if you need it.”

Feedback is clear communication. To be useful it must be understood by the receiver. One way of doing this is to have the receiver repeat back to you what they have heard. To elicit this response simply request, “To be sure you have understood me, please repeat back what you have heard.” Keep in mind that feedback, no matter what the intent, can be misinterpreted and may feel threatening.

Feedback should be solicited. For feedback to be most effective it has to be welcome. Do not wait for your employees to ask for it. Ask for permission to give it. A simple question can make all the difference. “Would you be willing to take some feedback on the way you handled [situation]?”

Feedback is one of the most powerful ways to develop employees and improve performance and it does not cost anything. Those are two great reasons to take the time and effort to develop your feedback skills.

This is part eight in a series of posts on leadership. View earlier posts here.

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