Give feedback that makes sense

Give feedback that makes sense

Aug 01, 2006

Trust me for a minute and breathe. That all-the-way-down-to-the-diaphragm breathing. In ... out ... in ... out. Now close your eyes and imagine a workplace where employees deeply respect one another. Where contributions large and small are acknowledged in a powerful way. Where folks honestly and compassionately address issues before they grow too big to manage. A world where Andrea can express to Jon and Beth exactly what she needs and how she needs it to do her job better. A world where Jon and Beth appreciate knowing Andrea's needs and would move mountains to make it happen.

Paradise? Yes. But also at least partly within reach for those of us who are willing to become students of the concept of feedback, that emotionally charged experience that has made us feel good and bad, competent and discouraged.

The first steps

If you're on board now as a willing student, read and consider these simple (but not always easy) feedback tips. Pick one suggestion and experiment with it today. As Jim Carrey's character learned in the hit movie Bruce Almighty, "Be the miracle you want to see in the world."

1. Push past your resistance. Do you ever wonder why we don't give or receive more positive feedback? There are two issues at play here. "Seventy-five percent of the time, an owner or manager thinks he or she is providing meaningful, impactful, behavior-changing feedback," says Sheila Grosdidier, RVT, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and a consultant for VMC Inc. in Evergreen, Colo. "But to team members, it's not meaningful. Often, both individuals are giving monologues in the same room."

The second problem is that offering even positive feedback is tough. You might feel awkward or worry that it's time-consuming or unnecessary. "I don't know how to do it," you might say. "I don't want to be perceived as 'weak' by praising others." Or, "I feel silly." If any of these statements rings true, acknowledge those feelings and give it a go anyway.

How did you feel?
2. Show, don't tell. "Great job this morning, Jennifer," is a nice gesture but not nearly as helpful as, "Jennifer, I appreciate your willingness to cover the phones when the receptionist called in sick this morning. Thank you for your commitment to making the front desk run as smoothly as possible in her absence, even when it meant canceling your own lunch plans. It meant a lot to me and I know the rest of the team appreciated your efforts, too." Remember, it's important to be timely and specific when you give feedback. Describe your co-worker's helpful actions and how her behavior affected you.

3. Express yourself in a fresh way. Most often, a thoughtful conversation is just right, but heartfelt and original gestures can speak volumes, too. Debbie Allaben Gair, CVPM, a Firstline board member and owner of Bridging the Gap in Sparta, Mich., once sent flowers to the wife of a speaker who went out of his way to speak at a conference Gair helped organize. "We put a note on the bouquet that said, 'Thanks. We're so grateful for his message.' The speaker said that neither he nor his wife ever forgot the gesture," Gair says.