Feedback is vitally important in the workplace. It helps individuals grow and projects stay on track, and in doing so, it helps companies progress. Yet many people find giving and receiving feedback in the workplace to be totally nerve-racking.
You work with your teammates day in and day out, and the last thing you want to do is sour your relationship with them through poorly handled feedback. On the other hand, failing to deliver necessary feedback could result in team dysfunction and simmering resentment.
So, what is the best way to give employee or peer feedback without alienating anyone?
Here are four tips for delivering effective feedback in the workplace, care of our friends at LifeLabs Learning, a company that offers training on how to give feedback that brings teams closer and makes work better.
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Tips for Giving Constructive Feedback
LifeLabs’ approach comes from a unique place — both the founders and their employees have backgrounds in psychology and integrate scientific findings and field research into their lessons.
“One of the most important things to invest in from a culture standpoint is having a feedback culture,” said Tania Luna, a partner at LifeLabs. “Healthy feedback is a huge predictor of employee engagement, and it’s linked with a feeling of growing and career progress.”
Here are the key steps to giving better constructive feedback:
1. Get a Buy-In
When you’re looking to give somebody feedback, how do you broach the topic? One great strategy is to get a “micro-yes” before actually offering feedback to a colleague.
In this case, a micro-yes entails getting a colleague to agree to a feedback session in the first place. Nobody likes to be blindsided, and if your colleague feels like they’re being criticized out of nowhere, they may become automatically defensive.
Instead, reduce the mystery on what feedback will be about and offer a timeframe for when you’d like to talk about it. Here are a few best practices to follow:
Reduce the mystery. Opening with the line, “I want to talk to you about something,” often strikes fear and dread in people’s hearts. It sounds like the opener for an unsavory breakup. Instead, be specific on the area you want to offer feedback on. For example, you could say, “Can I share some thoughts about the sales presentation you’re working on?”
Offer a specific amount of time. How long will it take you to give your feedback? Whether it’s five minutes or 30 minutes, let your colleague know so they can plan accordingly. For example, you could say, “Do you have 15 minutes to go over the upcoming metrics presentation?”
Don’t ask to talk immediately. Part of getting a micro-yes has to do with allowing the person in question to decide when is the best time to talk.
Additionally, by giving your colleague the opportunity for a buy-in, they’ll also have time to react accordingly and feel like they have some say in the situation.
2. Produce Data
Once you have a buy-in, come prepared to your meeting ready to cite specific examples and actively planning to refrain from making assumptions. A helpful way to do this is by focusing on data over interpretation, and behavior over the person.
“It’s so easy to start generalizing [with feedback],” said Tania. “You really need to push yourself to share with data. It’s almost impossible to change your behavior unless someone points out what the behavior is.”
For example, if you approach someone in the meeting and tell them, “You’ve been ignoring my messages and not trying hard at work,” you’re unlikely to get a desirable response.
However, if you produce facts and focus on behavior, you’re more likely to get a positive response or an explanation for your perception. For example, instead of saying the above, you might say, “I noticed that you haven’t responded to the emails I sent last week.”
By stating that fact, you’re giving a tangible example that focuses on your colleague’s behavior, rather than the person themselves. You’re also providing an example that leaves room for clarification on their end without making assumptions.
3. Offer an Impact Statement
After you produce data or a tangible example, give your impact statement. Why does this matter, and who on the team is affected by it?
For example, you can say, “I mention the emails because I’m excited to move this project forward and I’d like your input before I complete the key decisions.”
Or maybe, you brought it up because you want to test if your assumption is correct. In that case, you could say, “I mention it because I feel like you aren’t interested in collaborating with me on this project. I could be wrong, but I didn’t want to keep my assumptions to myself.”
Once you make that statement, it’s time to move on to the question portion.
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4. Ask a Question
After you give your data and impact statement, ask a question and open the floor to the person who is receiving feedback.
This type of question should be open-ended and guide the person into thinking of a constructive way to proceed. For example, you could ask them, “What do you think our email turnaround process should look like moving forward?”
Or you could make it a more general question for feedback response, like, “What are your thoughts?” By asking this question, you’ll open the door to your colleague’s ideas and create a solution to the problem together.
Constructive Criticism Examples
To review, once you have buy-in, giving effective feedback should include a data point, impact statement, and question. Here are some examples of that formula:
“I noticed that you submitted the report without asking for my feedback (data point). I mention it because I think it’s important for me to know the data you decide to use (impact statement). What are your thoughts on that? (question)”
“I noticed that you only integrated one suggestion I made on the presentation. I mention it because much of that feedback came as a result of my meeting with the department director. What do you think our process should be moving forward?”
“I noticed that you have requested time off last-minute the past two times you took off work. I mention it because the team is shorthanded when we can’t prepare for your departure. How do you think we could prevent that in the future?”
Try utilizing this structure the next time you're having a feedback conversation.
Giving feedback might be awkward and challenging at first. However, the more you practice, the more comfortable it will become, and the more you and your teammates will improve your work process and communicate challenges out in the open.
"If giving critical feedback feels too scary, first get good at giving high-quality positive feedback. Not only will you skill up, you'll also make others feel appreciated," said Tania.
If you’re looking for more opportunities to do so, look into offering classes to your employees or creating regular review processes and effective meetings to get constructive criticism out in the open. Having healthy communication in the workplace will always be worth the extra effort.