3 strategies for giving better feedback
In the workplace, feedback is information about a person that can help build self-awareness around intention and actions. Giving and receiving feedback effectively is one of the most important skills for managers to develop. Why?
Positive feedback speeds up learning and builds collaborative and engaged teams, while negative feedback can lead to blockers, frustrated employees, and a lack of progress. To make sure your managers have the opportunity to flex these communication muscles, we recently launched the feedback course in Skills Coach, which was built to help your team better support managers in developing critical skills.
What is Skills Coach?
Skills Coach is a series of personalized programs that features content created in partnership with Lifelabs Learning, based on their comprehensive suite of world-leading manager training courses. Skills Coach will deliver new courses with different areas of focus every few months, such as coaching and feedback, to help your managers grow in their roles.
Other benefits of Skills Coach include:
- Drives behavior change. Skills Coach uses conversational micro-learning to deliver activities directly to managers via Slack or email. All the exercises are short, actionable, and help managers put their new skills into practice to drive behavior changes.
- Accommodates busy schedules. Managers are busy and don’t need more added to their plates. That’s why each Skills Coach program only consists of about 20 two-minute exercises. Not only that, but these exercises are also delivered to managers daily on Slack – somewhere they’re already spending time.
- Based on research. Skills Coach uses the power of spaced repetition, which is the act of distributing learning over time, to help managers learn more effectively. This is a research-backed learning technique that has been shown to soften the “forgetting” curve, help learners retain more information, and apply those learnings in new ways.
In the next section, we’ll give you a sneak peek into the types of strategies, recommendations, and action items that the Skills Coach feedback course will teach your managers.
3 feedback strategies from Skills Coach
1. Take “blur words” out of feedback
Clear feedback is invaluable. When feedback isn’t clear, it’s often because the feedback uses what our partners at LifeLabs Learning term “blur words,” which are general statements that aren’t specific enough to be actionable. For example:
- “You're being unprofessional”
- “Your email is too sloppy”
- “Your summary is awesome”
As you can see, these “blur words” can be hard to interpret and measure. For instance, what exactly does unprofessional mean? How sloppy is too sloppy? While a manager might give an employee this feedback with good intentions, it can also be easily misunderstood, cause distress, and prevent constructive change.
Tip: Be specific.
Have managers replace their blur words with particular phrases that point more directly to the heart of the issue. If we revisit the previous example, here’s what that might look like:
- "You were late for the meeting yesterday. In the future, it would be great if you could give the organizer a heads up in advance."
- "I noticed your email had a few spelling mistakes. Maybe do a quick spell check before sending."
- "Your summary really captured the key points and made it easy to decide what to do next."
Encourage managers to try writing a piece of specific feedback for someone they work with today. They don't have to share it, but writing it down will help raise their awareness of the words they use.
2. Separate the behavior from the person
Often, we give feedback based on what we believe someone is thinking or personality traits we assume someone might have. “You were really angry yesterday,” “you didn't want to finish the task,” and "you're very resistant to outside input" are all examples of this.
Feedback based on what we think goes on inside the person’s head is risky because it can lead to guessing about the emotional states or goals of others. We want to avoid these types of assumptions because they can be wrong, insulting, or hinder an employee’s growth.
- Focus on observable behaviors. Taking this approach makes it much easier for employees to understand what triggered your feedback. For example, saying, “in the team meeting yesterday, you were giving short answers” or “I noticed that you didn't finish that task on time” is based more on objective facts rather than a manager’s interpretation of an employee’s behavior.
- Let the employee do the explaining. Instead of trying to guess what’s going through an employee’s mind, allow them to explain to the manager what they’re actually thinking or feeling. This removes any guesswork from the feedback process and may lead to more compassionate and transparent conversations.
Have managers practice writing down feedback for one colleague that calls out a specific behavior. Ask them to take 30 seconds to list out what they think of that colleague off the top of their head. Then have them ask whether these are based on observations or assumptions. Finally, have them take a step back to write feedback, consciously limiting it to only observed behavior.
3. Ask for feedback
Asking for feedback is also an important skill for managers to learn. While giving feedback helps others develop, asking for feedback can help managers grow as well. But it can be hard to do. Even the most experienced managers avoid asking for feedback for fear of being exposed or having a light shined on their weaknesses. However, having the courage to ask for feedback fosters trust and openness within teams and it can create an environment where everyone will learn and grow.
Tip: Apply the “rule of three.”
The “rule of three” is a framework that managers can use to make the process of asking for feedback easier. First, managers should explain the purpose of asking employees for feedback. Then, managers should encourage employees to be specific. Finally, managers should give them time and space to prepare their feedback. For example, using this framework, a manager might say:
"I'm worried that I'm dominating the conversation in meetings and other people aren't able to contribute. I'd like to get better at listening and asking questions. Would you mind giving me some feedback on how I am doing? Can I check in with you at the end of this week?"
Ask managers to identify a growth area they'd like feedback on and have them ask themselves: What do I want to do differently? Why is this important? Then, have managers ask an employee for specific feedback based on observable behaviors. And finally, remember that employees need to be given space to prepare rather than be put on the spot to provide immediate feedback.
Giving better feedback
It’s not easy for anyone to give feedback, whether a first-time manager or a more seasoned company leader. But with these feedback strategies offered through Skills Coach, your managers will have the opportunity to absorb new ideas and put them into practice to become more effective at giving and receiving feedback. This, in turn, will help them better support the needs of your workforce. We’re thrilled to offer Skills Coach as a way to better support and develop the skills of your managers.
Introduce Skills Coach to your organization
Use behavioral science and spaced repetition to drive real change.