Five Tips For Keeping Feedback From Being a 4-Letter Word

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Five Tips For Keeping Feedback From Being a 4-Letter Word

During their annual peak business season (Nov-Dec), FedEx and rival UPS, between them, deliver about 50 million packages per day, with remarkable on-time regularity, even in the face of a nasty pandemic and difficult weather. Our feedback process as leaders should be so reliable, but it isn’t, far from it. Yet, with a workforce that both craves and needs feedback, we must up our game to meet the needs of the business and our teammates. A few suggestions:

Be Timely

 Whether intended to encourage repeat or changed behavior, stale feedback is about as useful and welcome as a 10 day-old tuna sandwich. Make it a point to concentrate your feedback on fresh items, and if your organization is still doing performance reviews (you should), don’t even think about dinging someone for something that happened six months ago that you are just now bringing up. 

Be Focused

Coach regularly, as doing so allows you to focus tightly on only one or two items of discussion. Don’t ‘load up’ on people, particularly when delivering critical feedback. For many of us, doing that takes us back to our childhood when we had finally hit the limit with our parents and they decided it was time for a little feedback, at which point they would launch into a tirade (a deserved one to be sure) of things we had done or failed to do, and toward the end of said tirade we would hear the words, “And another thing…” followed by the introduction of yet one more object of their affection at that moment. This unburdening likely made them feel a wee bit better for a moment, but in the final analysis, no behavior ever changed. Take pains to ensure that you maintain reasonable balance between correction and appreciation.

Listen More, Lecture Less

Whether oriented toward improvement or repetition, giving feedback usually works better when both parties have a full grasp of the facts, to include a view of the situation from each person’s POV. But we won’t ever get the other point of view unless we’re willing to invite the other person into a real conversation, then shut up and listen. Usually we learn something, with the added benefit of giving the unmistakable impression that we actually care what the other person has to say. Ding!

Helpful, Not Hurtful (Permission matters… Words matter)

Helpful feedback is truthful, direct feedback, artfully presented. Blowing smoke (being less than candid) benefits no one, and frankly, it’s unkind. Before commenting on someone’s behavior or performance, even to offer a compliment, as a measure of respect, I try to nearly always ask for permission. “Could you stand some feedback?” In addition to leveling any power differential, it gives them pause to signify their willingness to participate, or to redirect with a “Yes, but…” as in “Yes, but I’m fully tasked with something else right now. Can we schedule it?” In providing feedback to others, we’re interested in having a partner, not a drive-by victim. 

Make it Personally Felt

I’ve found that when I’m able to link performance or behavioral observations to someone’s goals or aspirations, the conversation is much better received. “I think I’m seeing something that may be keeping you from getting the recognition you want… Would you be willing to talk about it?” What are they going to say, “No?” When any of us can clearly see a connection between current behavior and something that’s of importance to us, our “hearing” usually improves.

Regardless of the feedback topic, it helps to put a nice “bow” on the discussion and attempt to leave the other person with a good taste in their mouth. In addition to a genuine “thank you,” I try to always ask the concluding question, “Is there anything I can do to be of help to you, and perhaps make it a little easier for you to do your very best work. If so, I have the time.” 

And so, that last question now applies to you, our readers. If there’s some way that we can help you do more of your best work, we’d love to hear about it.

Best wishes for a happy, safe, and prosperous New Year.

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