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Giving feedback – what we all need to know to improve working life

Feedback is an important part of job performance but often fails for some simple reasons. In this blog, we look at some ways you can ensure your feedback is successful.

How many times have you wanted to cringe when your boss has prefaced their next sentence with the words “You’re not going to want to hear this?” A phrase often said before use of the word “but”… it immediately puts your hackles up. This is what’s known as bad signalling because you’re now emotionally primed to feel rejection.

Neuroscientists have discovered social evaluation and rejection tend to activate the same neural pathways associated with physical pain. When we experience being evaluated, criticised, or judged, it triggers a stress reaction. It activates the part of the brain that launches the fight or flight response.

Benefits of feedback

In our most requested communication training course, Giving and Receiving Feedback, we ask delegates to complete a simple task, usually, diving into pairs one has to try to throw balls of wastepaper into a bin while the other offers them feedback on their efforts. Afterwards we discuss what the exercise has achieved and the comments are very often the same:

  • better informed decision making
  • accelerating the speed of developing or mastering a skill
  • boosting performance and increasing success
  • providing clarity about wanted and expected behaviours and outputs
  • continuous improvement.

Barriers to giving feedback

Managers are often reluctant to give feedback as they do not wish to be disliked as a result of the situation or wish to avoid creating friction within the team. Or they are afraid of a defensive response since their team member could be reluctant to accept feedback because they don’t want to change or will take it as a criticism.

Be conscious of signalling

As listeners, we are aware of all types of information from voice to body language. This is true even when working remotely too.

Bad signalling is something we all do a lot. How many times have you heard “You might not like this” as announced ahead of receiving a plate of food on the table or equally frustrating to hear at work are phrases like “I don’t mean to be awkward but” or “I don’t know if this makes sense”. It means the receiver is now expecting things to be awkward or difficult to understand.

So next time, try switching the language to help your co-worker receive your messages in a more positive mindset.

Here are a few examples:

I need to ask you an important question.”   – this appeals to the listener’s ego. This is important and so are you.

“What I like about your idea…”   – this builds on your team member’s self-interest. What they have said must be valid and important.

“I’m not sure if this is possible, but…”  – here, you are introducing a problem to be solved and offering a chance for others to shine.

Avoid the f-word

There are many ways to avoid using the specific terminology (and setting off various triggers again!) Next time try phrases like “Let’s discuss how that meeting went…”, “I’d like to review your latest report with you” or “Would it help if I gave you a few pointers on your presentation?”

Practise using language and open questions to give the receiver the choice to listen and the mental space to prepare themselves.

Avoid triggers

“You never make your bed!” or “You never do the washing up!” were probably phrases you can recall from your own childhood. Language like “never”, “every” and “always” are often said liberally but are rarely true every time. Avoid using them as they are likely to take the focus on the desired outcome away.

Your body language counts

Even if you’re still using screens to do most of your team communication, you still need to be aware of your body language.

In numerous studies of human-robot interaction non-verbal cues appear to be most important for initiating an interaction, whereas verbal signals were most important when giving precise instructions. For example, eye contact is the crucial first step for resonance, a term psychologists use to describe a person’s ability to read someone else’s emotions. It’s also important for creating a feeling of connection. Make and maintain eye contact when you’re giving someone feedback. There’s more about this in this fascinating article.

Make it safe

If your team or company is not used to giving feedback, then you need to think about how you are going to introduce this as part of the culture. People will feel vulnerable and exposed in such situations and any wrong move could do more harm than good.  Try this blog on manager as coach for some background reading and consider your starting point before you introduce the concept.

Feedback = high performance

High performers yearn for feedback (particularly about the things that aren’t going well) because it enables them to address shortfalls and replicate their successes. If you can develop a positive approach to receiving feedback you will reap the reward.

Our practical and interactive training courses consistently receive 5 star-ratings. If your team needs help with communicating effectively, then please get in touch with Abby Hodder.






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