Friday, October 22, 2010

The Art of Giving Feedback, Part Two

In my last post, I described a simple approach for giving effective positive feedback.

But more often we're motivated to give constructive feedback, because people do things that annoy us or cause problems for us, and we want them to stop. The problem is, that instead of feedback, we may react by expressing our negative feelings. While this is a natural instinct, it doesn't have the desired effect. It just makes matters worse.

During the past several decades, experts in human relations have developed a well-tested approach to giving constructive feedback. It gets the job done without creating offense.

Here are the five elements:

1. Begin by describing the behaviors you liked.

2. Describe specifically the problem behavior.

3. Explain how it affected you.

4. Describe the behavior you need and why.

5. Express your confidence, encouragement and support.

An illustration…

Ms. Brown - “T.J. , I’d like to talk to you about equipment storage. Is now a good time?”

T.J. - “Sure. Now is fine.”

Ms. Brown - “T.J., up front, I want you to know I appreciate the way you make sure our gear is put away. You do a great job of keeping things in order. Otherwise, we’d waste time looking for stuff.”

T.J. - “Thanks. It helps when you know where things are.”

Ms. Brown - “Yes, I wish everyone felt that way. Also, I’d like to suggest a way to improve our system. Would you like to hear it?”

T.J. - “Absolutely.”

Ms. Brown - “This morning I went to get the first-aid kit and I noticed that quite a few of the tools had been put away dirty.”

T.J. - “Hmm. I guess that happens sometimes.”

Ms. Brown - “You see, T.J., this bothers me because we couldn’t run this business without our tools and other equipment. And if we don’t take care of them, before long we’ll have to replace them. And they’re expensive.”

T.J. - “Right.”

Ms. Brown - “I think some of the guys just got out of the habit of cleaning their stuff before they put it away. You’re the lead guy out there. I’d like you to talk to them and get them back on track. Will you do that?”

T.J. - “You bet.”

Ms. Brown - “Thanks. Just check around and you’ll see what I’m talking about. You’re my go-to guy over there, and I’m sure they'll understand once you point it out to them.”

Some tips to remember…

· Calm down first. Avoid saying anything emotional, aggressive, or sarcastic. Your goal is to get the person to behave differently, not to create defensiveness or resentment. If you say something hurtful, the person won’t believe you mean well.

· Be sure of your facts. Otherwise, your attempt to give feedback will backfire in embarrassment. The best approach is to stick to behavior you've observed personally. Otherwise, focus on observable consequences.

· Focus on only one issue. Feedback is successful if the other person later makes an effort to change behavior. Addressing more than issue at a time is more than most people can handle.

· Think about what you’ll say. Before you speak, take a moment to remember the five elements. Mentally rehearse, so you say the most effective things in the most effective sequence.

· Give feedback while the incident still fresh (within 24 hours). If you don’t address the issue in a timely way, the person may not remember exactly what happened and may wonder why you waited so long to bring it up.

· Check that the recipient is ready and willing to receive feedback. For a variety of reasons, the person may not be ready to consider what you have to say.

· Keep it private and confidential. Respect the needs and feelings of the individual. If you embarrass the person in front of others, you'll create resentment, which will diminish their motivation to change.

· Mention specific actions and behaviors. If you talk about actions you’ve observed, it’s hard for the person to deny or challenge you. So don’t mention values, attitudes, personality or other factors which you can’t observe directly.

· Be sincere. Don’t just say the words as if they were part of a formula. Talk about what you actually saw and how you really felt about it.

· Don’t hold it inside. When someone’s behavior causes problems, don’t put off bringing it up. If you let your discontent stew, eventually you’ll need to address so many instances which happened so long ago that the person won’t be able to deal with all of it. And chances are you’ll feel the need to express feelings that have built up.

· Over time, try to give five times as much positive feedback as constructive feedback. People need both kinds of feedback—positive and negative. Both are powerful ways to encourage improved behavior. But people often tend to take the good for granted, focusing mostly on problems. They rarely “catch people doing things right.” The bottom line is that if people only hear criticism, they’ll feel underappreciated for the good things they do, and they won’t respond enthusiastically when you point out things you’d like them to change.

Once you have the five elements well in mind, try focusing on just one tip.  You can see why I call feedback an art. To get good at it takes a fair amount of practice. But you'll find it's worth the effort.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, PhD, Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength .

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