Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Seeing ourselves as others see us: the art of feedback

Giving feedbackAccording to studies in social psychology, many of us unwittingly overestimate our own abilities, blind to our own deficiencies.

These studies demonstrate, however, that accurate feedback powerfully counteracts these tendencies.

The problem though is that in many settings--workplaces for example--mechanisms for providing accurate feedback are often inadequate or even absent. Which explains why poor performance is so often seemingly rewarded by wage increases or even promotion.

Part of the problem of course is that we're reluctant to deliver bad news. "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything" is drilled into us from childhood. Many of us may also feel totally unprepared to give feedback. The trouble though is that people won't get better on their own. Without feedback to hold a mirror to our faces, we have no idea what's not working and what needs to be changed.

Not sure how to give feedback? Consider the following suggestions:

1. Think about your goal. I remember a boss from one of my first jobs after college who seemed to enjoy publicly humiliating his employees. He would yell at his staff, berating them at a high decibel level. Needless to say, the turnover rate at this workplace was enormous. This guy lost sight of the purpose of feedback--an opportunity to build a relationship and trust with someone else, not demean them. The objective is to:

a. Help people understand the goals to be met
b. Explain what they're doing and not doing to meet those goals--be honest
c. Provide a realistic blueprint for improvement

2. Provide privacy. Giving and receiving feedback can be hard. It can be more comfortable for everyone involved if it's done privately--and allow for face-saving.

3. Give specifics. People need to understand exactly what isn't working well. If you're giving feedback, come prepared with specific examples. Document, document, document. In addition, provide specific details of steps that need to be taken. Be direct and clear.

4. Stop being an avoider. Delay doesn't make problems go away--they will only get worse and be harder to deal with. The sooner a problem is addressed, the easier it is for everyone to remedy. When behavior is allowed to go on for years and no one ever says anything, it's going to be much harder to address.

5. Set out a clear action plan. People need to know what comes next. Make sure that the goals are clear and that the other person understands them. If possible, chunk the action plan down into manageable, realistic steps. Do people need support or training to help them meet goals? Make sure that it's going to be available. It's also important that people understand the consequences of failing or refusing to make changes in response to feedback. And be consistent in enforcing consequences.

6. Give positive feedback too. If possible, don't just dwell on negatives. Let people know what they're doing that's great. It gives people hope and incentive to continue to do those things well. Besides, we can all do with a pat on the back.

7. Follow up. It can be a great idea to establish a feedback checkup--a follow-up session or sessions to see if goals are being met or any fine-tuning needs to be done.

Got ideas of your own that work for you? Share them here--comments are welcome.