As the end of the year quickly approaches, many organizations are preparing for performance review season. Most professionals dread these formal assessments and leaders detest the extra work, so I thought I’d dust off my HR hat and share my top tips for giving and receiving feedback. As a former HR leader, I’ve learned firsthand that giving and receiving feedback is a gamechanger for amplifying your career—when it’s done correctly and with the right intentions.
For some high-achievers, the word “feedback” or “performance review” can cause an emotional reaction—stress and anxiety—with physical symptoms, heart pounding, stomach clenching feelings. In its simplest form, the goal of feedback should always be the same: to support and help someone achieve success. However, many of us see feedback as negative or pointing out our flaws. When done with intention though, feedback will help you recognize blind spots and ensure you’re on track to meet your goals.
Now, let’s dive into the three types of feedback.
The first is appreciation. Appreciation connects and motivates us. Fundamentally it says, “I see you,” “I know how hard you’ve been working,” and “You matter to me.” Praise and appreciation lead to intrinsic motivation—the energy to double our efforts and do whatever it takes to get the job done. This form of feedback is critical for building a high-performing team. Think about a time your manager praised you for a job well done. How did that make you feel? It likely boosted your confidence and helped motivate you to continue your performance.
The second type of feedback is coaching. Coaching is aimed at helping someone learn, and expand their knowledge, skills, and capabilities. When you ask your manager for more direction, you’re asking for coaching. Coaching is also an opportunity to address feelings, which helps balance and strengthen relationships. For example, I recall a situation in my 8-to-5 job where I spearheaded a company-wide HR system launch. Training 300+ HR managers worldwide on this system upgrade was nerve-racking. However, the project rolled out without a hitch because my manager gave me detailed feedback about the training content, strategy, and launch timing. Her feedback was invaluable to the success of the project and my career.
The final type of feedback is evaluation. Evaluation is an assessment of your skills and abilities against a set of standards. Evaluations align expectations, clarify consequences, and inform decision-making. Typically, evaluation feedback is provided to correct behavior after coaching and mentoring have been offered continuously.
Now that we’ve covered the goal and the three different types of feedback, let’s jump into the guidelines to give and receive feedback.
Giving feedback guidelines.
- Examine your intentions. Ask yourself, “Will this information truly help this person improve?” If you intend to defend yourself or excuse your behavior, it is not feedback. Your purpose will affect the way your message is delivered and received.
- Maintain the person’s self-esteem. Think about the golden rule: How would you want to receive this information? Put yourself in the receiver’s shoes, how would you feel listening to this feedback?
- Be specific. Describe the behavior and the impact of the behavior in detail. Offer feedback about behavior and the results you’ve observed. Use “I” (rather than “we”) statements to accept responsibility for your perceptions; this avoids the receiver thinking you’ve talked behind their back.
- Focus on the performance, not the person. Describe the behavior and performance without judgment. Share only the information the receiver can use. Focus on the “what” and not the “who.
- Suggest alternatives and check for understanding. The person should come away from the interaction with a clear idea of what changes need to be made. Remember to check to make sure the receiver understood the feedback the way you intended it by asking a simple question such as, “does this resonate with you?”
- Provide feedback within 24 hours. When it comes to appreciation or coaching, immediate is best. I always like the saying, “If you spot something, say something.” For an evaluation, avoid waiting until the behavior results in an undesired outcome. Giving feedback will be harder to do if you wait to give feedback on undesirable behavior that you’ve previously ignored. If you put it off, the behavior becomes the norm.
- Lead with questions. Feedback should be a dialogue, not a monologue. Beginning the conversation with a few questions can help the other person feel like an equal part of the conversation. Ask the other person’s perception first: What went well? What would you do differently next time?
- End the conversation on a positive note. Give thanks, offer support, and let the person know you’re there to help them.
Receiving feedback guidelines.
- Listen to everything that’s said. Listening carefully reduces the chances of misunderstandings and hurt feelings. You might want to repeat what the giver tells you to ensure you understand. Instead of interrupting, if you have questions, take notes for further explanation.
- Ask for specific examples. If you’re unsure of the feedback, ask for clarification. Remember, it’s not about who you are—it’s about what you do.
- Avoid being defensive or blaming others. When receiving feedback, it might be tempting to get defensive and explain yourself. Instead, listen, ask clarifying questions, and reflect thoroughly on what you heard.
- Use what works for you. You may receive feedback that doesn’t resonate with you. That’s ok. Take what works and leave the rest. Here are a few factors to help you. Consider the source, is this someone you respect? Understand the impact of implementing the feedback, is it a quick and easy fix or something that would take an entire project plan? And finally, think about the frequency you’ve heard the feedback. Is it just once, or regularly?
- Thank the person for the feedback. The person sharing feedback with you cares about you. They spent the time to prepare and share with you—all to support your career development. Be courteous and appreciative of their time and thoughtfulness.
Remember, the goal of feedback is to improve your performance. Therefore, one of the best ways to continue learning and growing in your career is to regularly seek out feedback and build it into your career development plan.
Here are three excellent open-ended questions to ask for feedback:
- If you had to make two suggestions for improving my work, what would they be?
- How could I execute my projects more effectively?
- How can I do a better job?
Although the word itself can have a negative connotation, feedback can take your career to the next level if you’re open to receiving it. When you can remain open to accepting valuable information, you’ll quickly boost your career development.
“It takes humility to seek feedback. It takes wisdom to understand it, analyze it and appropriately act on it.” — S. Covey
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