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Giving Feedback: Part Art, Part Science

One of the often agonizing responsibilities of managers is to give feedback on a performance issue requiring behavioral change.  Effective managers realize that while this type of feedback may be uncomfortable, it is necessary to ensure that employees have timely information that allows immediate behavioral modification. Feedback is, when done well, given in the service of the employee, the relationship and the organization.

One of a manager’s responsibilities is to help her/his employees to be effective and successful. This means providing training, support, resources, and feedback about performance issues that are getting in the way of an employee doing his or her best work. Below are some ideas of things to keep in mind when structuring feedback.

  • It must be given soon after the behavior or event occurs. Don’t wait until a behavior becomes a pattern to discuss it.
  • It must describe precisely what occurred, with enough specificity for the person to have no trouble recalling the behavior or incident.
  • It should be limited to one issue at a time. People are more likely to become defensive if a list is presented rather than just addressing a particular issue or behavior.
  • Language must be non-evaluative when delivering the message. Do not ascribe attributes, motives, attitudes, or intentions.
  • Give feedback only related to the useful, actionable information. If a person has no control over the behavior, it may not be appropriate to give feedback about it.
  • Feedback should establish an opportunity for growth and/or change. Focus on the future desired state to underscore your ongoing investment in the relationship.

Before talking with the other person, reflect on a particular situation on which you’d like to focus. Make sure that the situation meets the above criteria. Once you have a clear understanding of the behavior about which you want to give feedback, script your opening statements to the other person.

Example: Jenny, I observed that you came in to work today at 9:15 am, yesterday at 9:20 am, and last Tuesday at 10:15 am and you are scheduled to begin your shift at 9:00 am. I’d like to talk with you about it.

Example: Jonathon, yesterday when we were in the departmental meeting and just as we were beginning to discuss the new service desk policy, you packed your belongings, left the room, and the door slammed behind you. I would like to know what happened.

You do not need to come to closure or “fix” the behavior in the opening statement. This is meant to open the conversation. Once you have invited the other person’s response, listen—drop your agenda and just listen. A conversation should ensue. Allow and encourage it, because this is the time that you 1) learn more about your colleague, which will help your relationship over time, and 2) invite the other person to offer suggestions about alternative behaviors in the future. Ownership of the problem-solving process is your goal; this is the foundation of accountability.

As your conversation comes to a close, make sure that you summarize the major points raised during the discussion including the agreed upon new behaviors. Close with a plan for follow up. If appropriate, send an email message after the meeting with a list of agreed upon future behaviors and a timeline. This will be useful if additional personnel action is required.

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DeEtta Jones

DeEtta Jones is an invited speaker, equity, diversity and inclusion strategy consultant and author with more than twenty years of experience working with people from around the world to on personal effectiveness and building workforce capacity.

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