How to give feedback (and not be over critical)

My company was testing out a new management training class called “Effective Feedback” and the marketing department was asked to be the guinea pig. All marketing leaders were required to take this class and upon completion, provide feedback so Rackspace University could decide if they would implement as an official class.

My class was small, there were only three of us. To start the class, the trainer asked the class how would we respond to someone that asked us the following:

“I’d like to give you some feedback, would you like to hear it?”

I immediately responded with, “yes” while my other two class members said “no.”

The trainer looked at me surprised. I was confused. Why wouldn’t I want feedback?

The trainer went on to say that most people are not open to having someone come tell them what they could be doing better.  That might be the case because they’ve had terrible experiences on how someone has provided them feedback or they received a negative reaction after providing feedback to someone else. So how do you do it? It depends on your relationship with the person, what you expect to get out of it and how you approach it.

Let me explain.

The Relationship

Before you have the right to give anyone feedback, you need to have developed a relationship with that person. By doing this, you will have context behind why this person is doing what they’re doing. It’s unfair to judge someone by only their outputs because you have no clue why the outputs are what they are. What if there were some limitations the person ran into and it’s the reason their output isn’t up to the par you would expect?

Bottom line: Don’t judge the book by it’s cover.

The Outcome

The only reason you should be giving feedback to anyone is because you sincerely care about that person and want them to improve or you want what is best for the organization. Giving feedback should not be given because you want to show how smarter or better you are. It should not be given to belittle the person you’re giving feedback to. And it should not be given because you want something done a certain way without really knowing if your way is in fact better. What is the real value the world will receive if you give feedback? Having trouble figuring it out? Then you’re not ready to give feedback.

Bottom line: This isn’t about you, it’s about them.

The Approach

Now you have a relationship and have a specific reason for giving the feedback. So how do you do it? Here’s the thing – everyone is different and it’s ok. You have to approach it the way that works best for that person and ideally you give it in person or over the phone, not in an electronic format like email or chat. If you’re working with a remote employee, try Skype or a Google Hangout. Things can often be misconstrued in an electronic format and taken the wrong way. And if you do have to do it over email, make sure to follow up with a phone call.

Bottom line: Own it and be respectful.

Remember, the best thing you can do for an employee is give them feedback. You’re doing a disservice to them and to your organization by not providing feedback. It’s how you give the feedback that differentiates it from being over critical or being constructive. By considering these three things I’ve mentioned, you will have your employees asking for more feedback.

And don’t forget to give feedback not only in the bad times, but give it in the good times as well. If you do this, you will be more respected as a leader.

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