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Have you ever been annoyed by a workmate’s habits, but didn’t know how to tell them? Almost everyone has been in this situation, but almost no one has the answer. Some of you may cringe at the thought of giving your co-workers constructive feedback. The temptation to simply say “good job” in a 360-degree review always seems like the safest bet, especially when the recipient is known to have a short temper.
With companies encouraging their employees to give feedback more often, rather than being wary of the inevitable you should learn to use feedback to your advantage. When given the right way constructive feedback can diffuse tensions before they start, help your colleague develop and build a positive work environment.
In this post I’ll outline three different situations in which you may need to give constructive feedback and four steps that will help help make it easier.
There are three types of situations in which you might need to provide feedback:
When someone asks for feedback
The easiest situation to deal with is when a colleague asks you for advice. This may be a younger employee who wants to learn from your experience or a fellow team member who simply wants to know how they’re doing. If they’re coming to you it shows that they’re already open to receiving feedback and actively want to develop their professional skills. Nonetheless, even in this situation you may still find it difficult to be completely honest.
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Having a growth mindset will help change your attitude towards both receiving and giving feedback. As an outsider you can provide your co-workers with valuable insights into their performance and point out certain behavior they may not be aware of. If your colleagues feel they can trust you to give honest helpful career advice, they’ll be more likely to follow your suggestions, and feel more comfortable coming to you when there’s a problem. This can lead to greater cohesion within the team and help you build closer relationships with your colleagues.
If you’re unsure where to start, try to figure out if they want feedback in a particular area. Your co-worker may already have a specific skill in mind that they’re trying to develop, for example improving their sales pitch or presentation skills. Starting off the conversation by asking them how they’re doing at work or what they thought about the last project they completed can give you clues.
When they don’t ask for feedback
Sometimes giving peer-to-peer feedback may be mandatory, as in 360 reviews. Telling someone they did a “good job” or “great work” doesn’t give them valuable information about their performance. Though you may believe opting out in this way spares your colleague the stress of receiving constructive feedback, you may be inadvertently hindering their potential for progress. It may be harder to speak up when your colleague hasn’t formally asked you for feedback, but if given effectively it can be a great way to resolve conflicts and get team projects on track.
It’s a fact that everyone will have different ways of dealing with deadlines, organization and stress. When working with others these different work styles may clash. For instance, when working on a team project, if one of your colleagues is consistently missing deadlines it’s essential that they understand the impact they’re having on the rest of the team. You may decide to avoid confrontation, hoping they’ll correct this behavior on their own. Failing to address the situation, could signal to your co-worker that no one will be too concerned if they miss the deadline by a few hours or even days, potentially encouraging a destructive work habit.
A common misconception is that giving your peers feedback may come across as patronizing. If you believe that your manager should be the only one giving constructive feedback, keep in mind that they might not always be there to notice certain behaviors. If they’re only going to review the final product, finishing a team project late will instead reflect badly on everyone. As you’re the one who works alongside them the most, you will have the greatest insight into your colleague’s performance. Following the steps below will help you to deliver your message in a helpful, rather than patronizing way.
When it’s your boss
Employees are often too intimidated to give their boss constructive feedback. Instead you should see it as an opportunity to improve how your work is being managed, and point out concerns your boss may not have noticed. Imagine that in meetings your boss has a habit of immediately shooting down employees’ suggestions when they don’t agree with them. Everyone in the room may feel intimidated to speak up, but no one wants to point this out to your boss. In the next meetings, your boss gets angry at what they see as a lack of participation.
To overcome this common fear it’s critical to realize that your boss is an employee too and as such they also want to improve their performance. One of the most important parts of their job is maintaining employee retention rates. Receiving feedback allows your manager to check in and work on creating a positive atmosphere in the workplace. Though you may be tempted to give out buckets of gold stars, again, giving only positive feedback will not help them to grow as a leader.
How do I give constructive feedback effectively?
1. Work on delivery
Some people start off with positive feedback. Recognizing your colleague’s strengths will help to balance the constructive feedback you’re going to give them and boost their confidence. This strategy is up for debate though and will depend on your own feedback style.
Whichever tactic you choose, steer clear of linking your positive and constructive feedback with “but,” “although” or “however” as this can make your compliment sound insincere.
To make sure your feedback doesn’t come off as a personal attack, base your feedback on observations and facts, rather than judgments. Also include specific examples. For example, instead of telling them they never listen to others, you could say, “I noticed that when Holly made a suggestion in last week’s meeting you disagreed with her before she finished explaining her idea.”
A good way to be sure you’re not making it personal is by using verbs instead of adjectives. “Sometimes you interrupt others and forget to leave space for different opinions” instead of “You are sometimes bossy and controlling in team meetings.”
2. Bring them into the discussion
There are always two sides to a story. After giving feedback, give the recipient a chance to respond. Maybe they get annoyed when meetings run overtime and have a hard time rejecting ideas diplomatically. This transitions your discussion into a conversation rather than a one-sided review and enables you to confirm they’ve understood your feedback. It’s only at this point when you understand both sides of the situation that you can come up with an effective solution together.
3. Ask for feedback in return
Once you’ve given feedback, ask for feedback in return. With this step you can demonstrate that you’re open to constructive advice and value their opinion, putting you on an equal footing. Ask specific questions about your performance to show you really want to hear from them and are not just asking as a formality.
4. Put yourself in their shoes
If you’re still unsure how they’ll take your feedback, put yourself in their shoes. Imagine the situation is reversed. How would you react if your colleague gave you the same feedback? Would you be angry or grateful that someone pointed this out? Keep in mind differences in personality. It might be more difficult for some people to overcome a fixed mindset than others, but if you can honestly say you would not be offended receiving your own feedback, it’s a good sign you’ve planned your delivery well.
Summary and take-aways:
Employees are being asked for feedback more and more by their colleagues, managers and company. Fear of offending someone may make you more hesitant to give constructive feedback. If you learn how to communicate your feedback effectively you can help your colleagues grow professionally, diffuse office conflicts and improve your team’s productivity.
- Start with positive feedback
- Base feedback on observations, facts and examples
- Use verbs instead of adjectives
- Listen to their side
- Ask them to return the favor
- Put yourself in their shoes