So, you think you give great feedback?

by Rob Sheppard

[Approx 4 min read]

Feedback. It’s a constant presence in our lives, shaping our actions and influencing our growth.

Whether it’s a pat on the back for a job well done, a colleague’s subtle eye roll or a formal annual review you are managing for your team, you’re part of the feedback loop.

There is a growing awareness of the impact that interpersonal communication has on relationships in the workplace – and an understanding of the importance of feedback as a tool not just for development and performance improvement but also for improving interpersonal relationships.

What is feedback?

Feedback, at its core, is ‘information provided about an action, behaviour or performance with the intention of helping someone improve’. It is:

Feedback is about helping someone improve.

It’s more than the words we use

Most readers will understand the ‘verbal’ nature of communication (the ‘words’ you use) but often not the impact of non-verbal communication in feedback.

As a quick example of the impact of non-verbal communication, research in the 1960s* highlighted the significant impact of body language (55%) and vocal tone (38%) in communication compared to the actual words spoken (7%).

This research underscored that how we deliver and receive feedback often matters MORE than the content itself.

In a world increasingly driven by automation and AI, this human touch (tone and body language) is even more pronounced in our opinion.

Getting it wrong

Effective feedback is not just about getting our message across, but rather, about receiving and processing information with openness and understanding.

While giving feedback often takes center stage, receiving it effectively is equally important.

Getting either wrong can have a very detrimental consequence to both the individuals involved and the organisation – and as an aside, we see the consequences of this almost every day in our role as Hr consultants.

Hasty or poorly delivered feedback can create a hostile work environment, potentially leading to claims of bullying or worse, a rise in psychosocial hazards in the workplace (see our article Unlock more work happiness: tackle Psychosocial Hazards | Quantum HR)

Getting it right

How do we navigate the two sides of feedback in this age of ‘Super Skills’?

Here are three key tips for both giving and receiving feedback we know work:

Feedback is both giving AND receiving

Giving Feedback:

  1. Focus on the specific: Instead of vague generalities, pinpoint observable behaviours and offer clear examples.
  2. Frame it with respect: Deliver feedback constructively and always check in that you’re emotionally ready to give it for the receiver’s benefit.
  3. Timeliness is key: Address issues promptly when details are fresh, allowing the receiver to learn and adapt… and choose your location wisely.

Receiving Feedback:

  1. Actively composed: Stay calm, take a deep breath and focus on listening (simply asking questions will demonstrate this to the feedback giver). On that point..
  2. Embrace curiosity: Approach the feedback with an open mind, using questions that start with words such as “I’m curious…” this will help you gain further clarity on what they’re trying to tell you.
  3. Strengthen the feedback: If you catch yourself saying ‘yeah, but..’ note that you are in defensive mode. Flip this by simply changing ‘but’ to ‘and’. You are now signaling you’re open to the feedback and only adding your perspective.

Don’t take this personally.

One FINAL tip that all our workshop participants are coached to avoid is the opening ‘Don’t take this personally’.

The Feedback Killer: ‘Don’t take this personally…’

This feedback-killer comment will effectively hinder the conversation because it:

  • Minimises the receiver’s feelings (*they’re a person, how else will they take what’s about to come?)
  • Shifts focus onto their reaction not their behaviours
  • Creates defensiveness by signalling both of the above points

Where to now?

By practicing just these simple communication “Super Skills”, you can begin to create a culture of open and honest feedback.

The best place to start is to Start small and do it often.

Try just changing ‘but‘ to ‘and‘ or stop saying ‘Don’t take this personally…’.

Remember that feedback, when done right, is a powerful tool for building a more positive, productive, and ultimately, successful work environment for everyone.

And if it’s all still confusing?

Contact one of our team who will be happy to help you navigate these matters – simply click the link below and reach out to us now.

* see the work of Dr Albert Mehrabian