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Further to (or in spite of!) the ongoing debate regarding performance appraisals, ultimately, the most important part of the exercise is to ensure there is ongoing open discussion between the employee and manager. Equally, it is helpful to share feedback within all key relationships in your work environment (internal and external clients, peers etc.)

However, there are few ways to maximise your effectiveness in both providing feedback to others, as well as how you receive feedback.

Firstly, feedback includes both positive and opportunities to improve; and in both instances, should come from a perspective of genuinely wishing to praise or help the other party to improve by either doing more of what they do which is great or doing things differently where things aren’t working well.

Feedback being offered from any other perspective (eg. Political manoeuvring, competitiveness, wanting to be seen as being ‘nice’ or a box ticking exercise for a manager) will come across as phoney, disingenuous, contrived and even patronising and will undermine the relationship and likely damage morale, personal reputations and future opportunities to influence.

High quality feedback (regardless of whether it is positive or constructive) is:

  • Timely – ideally within a day or two of the activity occurring, if not immediately. Performance appraisal discussions should effectively be a summary of lots of earlier feedback conversations that were given when they were relevant.
  • Specific and unambiguous – use a clear description or example of what they did and ensure that the receiver understands that it is intended positively or constructively. If, for example, there are serious performance issues which may impact their ongoing employment, the receiving party needs to understand exactly what they need to improve, by when, how it is measured and how you will support them in doing so. Don’t muddy the conversation with lots of praise. Equally, if they are doing a great job, ensure that they clearly understand that!
  • Owned by the person providing it.
  • Thoughtful – be sensitive and considered in how you share the information. Be aware that even if feedback is positive, human nature means that we will naturally gravitate to anything that may sound negative and any threat is seen as being a threat to our survival and self esteem. Even if you provide 4 pieces of positive feedback, the receiver is most likely to remember and replay the part of the conversation with the 1 piece of critical feedback.
  • Be aware of the physical location – for any constructive feedback, this should absolutely be provided privately; for positive feedback, use your judgement based on your knowledge of the individual and the context as to whether they would appreciate public acknowledgement or to receive praise only privately.
  • Objective and respectful – don’t use subjective terms and describe the behaviour not the person; equally don’t compare them to others in the team. Be conscious of any power imbalances.
  • A two-way discussion with the receiving party.
  • Delivered by someone who is respected by the receiver and has the authority to do so

For example: ‘I thought your presentation this morning was really good and the supporting slides were clear. In particular, the way you responded to the follow up questions was especially great! In spite of some challenges from John, I felt you remained calm, confident and considered in your responses without allowing the discussion to derail the session for the whole audience. You also followed up with him afterwards with additional information’

Equally, there are a few skills to effectively receiving feedback, regardless of whether you have specifically asked for it or it has been offered to you:

  • Be open-minded – the other party has different knowledge, skills, experience and perspective from you that shapes the feedback they provide. However, don’t immediately dismiss what they share until you have heard everything and reflected on it.
  • Assume positive intent ie. they want you to succeed and this is the basis for the feedback being offered to you.
  • Have a growth mindset – embrace the feedback (good and bad) and take the opportunity to learn to achieve higher levels of performance.
  • Listen carefully – be sure to hear everything that they have said, not what you want to hear.
  • Seek clarification and further examples or details if need be to ensure you understand, however, don’t get sidetracked with nitpicking the factual details. Understand the overall message and themes that are being shared with you.
  • Don’t respond immediately – especially if you feel emotional or defensive about what you have heard. Don’t be afraid to ask to take some time to consider your response.
  • Thank the person for taking the time to share their perspective and advice – whether it is positive or constructive, it is much better to hear it directly and in a well intended, timely fashion then to hear it via the grapevine.

Finally, make sure you do something with the feedback – take ownership and action! Unless the other party is completely misinformed or doesn’t have the authority, then you should now reflect and consider what you can do differently (or do more of) to enhance your performance. Indeed, it is disrespectful not to and people will be less inclined to support your development if they don’t see the changes to your behaviour. They don’t have to be radical changes that take you so far out of your comfort zone that you are no longer authentic, but sufficient to demonstrate improvement based on the feedback you received.