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Giving and receiving feedback

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Giving and receiving constructive feedback is a key management skill. This section looks at how to commend and critique effectively.

What is feedback?

Feedback is an objective message about behaviour or an activity, recognising and reinforcing something well done or offering suggestions about how to do something better. It is not necessarily negative and is not always one way. It should never be an opportunity for a personal attack on someone’s character or personality.

It can be given:

  • by managers to their direct reports
  • by you to your own manager
  • by you to your peers.

It can be received from any of those directions above and from clients, customers or beneficiaries.

It can help to improve:

  • relationships
  • work processes
  • results
  • awareness of the impact of your behaviour on others.

It can be undertaken in a formal (that is in performance reviews or supervision meetings) or informal setting (after an activity or the completion of an event or piece of work). 

Tips for giving feedback

  • Offer positive feedback (praise) in public and negative (corrective) feedback in private  
  • Unless it is informal feedback – usually when praising after an event - preparation is the key to effective feedback.  See below. 
  • Feedback should be focussed on:
  • behaviour NOT personality
  • evidence NOT assumption
  • description NOT value judgments
  • specifics NOT generalities
  • discussion NOT telling
  • information NOT gossip

Preparing to give feedback

  • Gather evidence: the facts and evidence to provide you with an objective view. Only use evidence that you know first hand to be accurate, not something someone said about the person’s actions. Gather specific evidence based on 'who, what, how, where and when'. 
  • Understand the effect of the behaviour or activity.
  • Focus on the behaviour, skills/knowledge or job performance – not on someone’s personality.
  • Understand the wider picture: Do you know what is happening elsewhere (at work or home) for this person?
  • Anticipate the person’s response
  • Consider what you wish to achieve: Think about the short and longer term.
  • Review after offering feedback: What went well, what might you do differently next time, what did you learn from this?  Did you agree an action plan or targets?  What was the impact of your feedback on the recipient?

Tools for giving and receiving constructive feedback

'EEC' is a method of giving feedback where:

E = Evidence, example about the person’s BEHAVIOUR or ACTIONS not about their PERSONALITY

E = Effect of the behaviour where you describe in non-emotional terms what specific effect the person’s action had on you, people or a situation.

C = Change – where you help the person decide on the required changes. When the cause of negative feedback is inappropriate behaviour, the person must want and learn how to change it. At this stage you should encourage them to generate their own solutions. Offer guidance and discuss options, but don’t impose your ideas.

Two examples of negative and positive feedback using "EEC"

Giving negative feedback: corrective 

EXAMPLE: “John, on the last two mornings you have arrived 15 minutes late for work”

EFFECT: “This has led to me and the rest of the team having to delay our early morning meeting and has thrown out our schedule for the rest of the day. I am extremely annoyed about this”.

CHANGE:  “We need to agree the ways that you will ensure that you arrive at work on time in the future. What ideas do you have?”

Giving positive feedback: praise

EXAMPLE: “John, since I last spoke to you about your timekeeping, you have arrived consistently early for work.”

EFFECT: “This has meant that we have been able to start our meetings on time. I am very pleased about this. Keep it up.”

NO CHANGE NEEDED

Receiving feedback

Everyone receives feedback from others from time to time. It is a key opportunity to learn from earlier events and actions - what went well or not so well - and is an important part of our development and an opportunity to learn.

Some tips on how to receive feedback:

  • Listen carefully to what the other person is saying and to what they are NOT saying (their body language, the tone of their voice, the words they are using).
  • Probe and clarify what is said so that you are clear about what the other person really means.
  • Ask questions to pin down specifics.
  • Try not to be defensive – you can always question the basis of the evidence of what has been said and move the discussion back onto the objective rather than subjective matters. 
  • Acknowledge the feedback and thank the person. This does not mean that you are agreeing with it but that you are recognising that the person has taken the time to give it to you.

It is easy to be defensive when someone gives you negative feedback, when someone complains or challenges you.   

Rather than pausing to let the feedback or message sink in, people often rush in to contradict the speaker or justify your position. This reaction can weaken your ability to listen and can change a conversation into a conflict.

A method that can help you avoid acting defensively is PAC where:

P = demonstrate patience, pause 

A = ask at least one question to clarify the situation

C = confirm that you have understood the speaker accurately

… then respond.

Using 'PAC' gives you time to understand what the issue is, to reflect on the feedback and to think through your response. 

Section leaders

Fiona Ash

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