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Posts Tagged ‘giving feedback’

How to Give Helpful Positive Feedback – Dump the Fake Stuff

Most training programs about giving feedback focus on negative feedback, because giving negative feedback is hard and makes us uncomfortable. But most people aren’t any better at giving positive feedback.

Most of the positive feedback people get at work really isn’t feedback at all. It’s vague, fluffy, and unhelpful. Aka, Cap’n Crunch – sweet but useless.

“Great job.” “You’re awesome.” “You’re great to work with.” None of this qualifies as real feedback.

The purpose of positive feedback is to make people feel valued and appreciated and to get them to replicate a behavior. Telling someone, “great job” or “you’re doing great work” will make the person feel good (momentarily), but won’t tell them what to replicate. These phrases are vague, and vague positive comments come across as inauthentic at best and unhelpful at worst.

Examples of positive feedback

Here are a few examples of what I refer to as real vs. fake feedback:

Example of positive feedback:

Fake feedback: “Great job.”

Real feedback: “You researched three vendors when making a proposal of who we should choose to manage our payroll operations. You included all the necessary information for us to make a decision and presented the information in a one-page table that was easy to read. Your work made it really easy to make a decision.”

Example of positive feedback:

Fake feedback: “You’re really reliable.”

Real feedback: “I know that whatever I give you to do will get done the first time I ask and will be accurate. I don’t have to ask again or check your work. You check your work for typos and mistakes before submitting it.”

Example of positive feedback:

Fake feedback: “You make my job easy.”

Real feedback: “Last week you noticed an invoice that didn’t seem accurate. You researched the invoice and got the mistake corrected before I even knew there was a problem.”

Example of positive feedback:

Fake feedback: “You’re awesome.”

Real feedback: “You always do what’s right for the company. Last week you called a vendor whose service has been spotty. You provided them with feedback and asked for their plan to improve their service levels. This added a lot of value to our organization.”

The guidelines for giving positive feedback are the same as giving negative feedback:

  • Be specific.
  • Give an example.
  • Give feedback close to the time an event happens.

To give specific and meaningful positive comments, you will have to observe performance, and that takes time. But if you want someone to replicate a behavior, tell the person specifically what they did well.


Why Employees Don’t Do What They Need to Do – Improve Employee Performance

How many times have you been sitting at your desk wondering, “Why won’t they ___________ ?” Perplexed, you talk with your buddy at work. The conversation goes something like, “I’ve got this person, and I can’t figure out why they won’t ______________.” Or perhaps you talked directly to the person, but after several conversations, they still haven’t done what you asked them to do.

employee performance

There are four reasons why people don’t do what you ask them to do:

  1. They don’t know how.
  2. They don’t think they know how.
  3. They can’t.
  4. They don’t want to.

Reason number one for a lack of employee performance, they don’t know-how, is the easiest to solve. People who don’t know how to do something need training, coaching, a mentor, a job aid, or some other form of instruction. The hope is that with the right training and exposure, they will be able to do what you’re asking.

Reason number two for a lack of employee performance, they don’t think they know how, can be improved over time with patience and consistent coaching. You aren’t working with clean slates. Most people are recovering from or reacting to a past relationship or situation. If a person worked for a controlling manager who never let them make a decision or worked for someone who invoked punitive consequences for making mistakes, the person will likely be hesitant to make decisions. Hence why they continue to ask questions and repeatedly check in, but never make a decision independently.

If you work with someone who doesn’t think they know what to do, but you know they have the answer, encourage them to trust themself. When they come to you for validation or approval, ask questions, don’t give answers. Tell the person you trust their judgment and encourage risk-taking. Tell them you’ll support their decision, even if it proves to be the wrong one. And encourage them to make a decision next time without consulting you. Then keep your word. If they make a wrong call, you have to have their back and can’t invoke negative consequences.

Reason number three for a lack of employee performance, they can’t, is challenging but clear cut. People who can’t do a task their brains aren’t wired for, will never do that responsibility well, regardless of how much coaching, training, and assistance you provide. If you have repeatedly and effectively, coached, trained, and provided support and the person still can’t do what is being asked, remove that responsibility and give the person something they can do well. If that responsibility is a large part of the job, you have someone in the wrong job. It’s time to make a change.

Reason number four for a lack of employee performance, they don’t want to, is annoying but manageable. There are lots of reasons people don’t do things they don’t want to do. Those reasons include, but aren’t limited to, boredom, lack of buy-in as to why something is important, insufficient time, feeling like a task is beneath them, etc. If you’ve got someone who can but doesn’t want to do something, you can either take the responsibility away, incent them to do it, or give feedback EVERY TIME the task doesn’t get done.

Giving negative feedback isn’t fun for the giver or the receiver. No one wants to hear that they aren’t meeting expectations, and most people don’t want to tell you. But the discomfort of receiving negative feedback EVERY TIME the person doesn’t do what they need to do will create behavior change. They will either begin doing what you ask, quit, or ask for a transfer. Either way, your problem is solved.

The first step in getting people to do what you want them to do is to discover why they’re not doing what you ask. It’s impossible to appropriately manage employee performance if you don’t know why someone isn’t doing what needs to do be done. And the person to ask why a responsibility isn’t getting done isn’t you or your buddy, it’s the person not doing the work. So, get out of your head, leave your office or laptop, and go talk to the person not doing the work.

Here’s how to start an employee performance conversation:

“I’ve noticed you’re not doing ___________. Help me understand what’s happening.” Watch your tone, inquire from a place of genuine curiosity, and identify the reason they aren’t doing what they need to do. Then you can intervene appropriately and hopefully get the behavior you want.


Giving Feedback – 3 Funny Examples of Giving Employee Feedback

Get the words to say the hardest things in two minutes or less. If you work long enough, you’ll eventually be confronted with these situations. Giving feedback doesn’t have to be hard.


Giving Feedback – The Right Time is Now

Most of us wait to give negative feedback until it’s the right time, aka the recipient won’t get upset. Or we wait, hoping the situation will resolve itself. If something is really an issue, the likelihood of either happening is pretty slim. The right time to give feedback is shortly after something happens. I’ll offer up the 24-guideline and the one-week rule. Wait 24-hours to give feedback, if you’re upset. But don’t wait longer than a week.

The purpose of giving positive or negative feedback (I like the word upgrade feedback) is to motivate someone to replicate or change a behavior. That’s it. Feedback is supposed to be helpful. If you wait longer than a week to give either positive or upgrade feedback, the person isn’t likely to remember the situation you’re referencing, and the purpose of giving feedback – to change or replicate a behavior – will be lost.

giving feedback

Here are four practices to make negative (upgrade) feedback conversations shorter, less painful, and more useful:

Giving feedback practice one:  Agree to give and receive feedback at the onset of relationships. Do this with everyone you work with – direct supervisors, direct reports, peers, internal and external customers, and vendors. 

Giving feedback practice two:  Prepare for feedback conversations by writing down what you plan to say and then delivering the feedback to a neutral person. Ask that person to tell you what they heard and what their expectations would be, based on what you said. Confide in someone either at your level or above at work or someone outside of work, to keep the gossip to a minimum. Ask for confidentiality.

Giving feedback practice three:  Tell a neutral person about your situation, and ask what they would say to address the situation. Everyone but you will do a better job at giving feedback. Feedback conversations become hard when we’re emotionally involved. The guy working at the 7-11 will do a better job than you. Seriously. It’s our emotions and concern about the other person’s reaction that makes feedback conversations challenging.

Giving feedback practice four:  Agree to do a weekly debrief with the people you work closely with, and follow-through. Answer the questions – what went well this week from a work perspective and what would we do differently if we could? Answer the same questions about your working relationship. Giving feedback about your relationship will be hard at first.  It will be easier the more you do it. Be sure to say “thank you” for the feedback, regardless of what you really want to say. One of the reasons giving negative feedback is so hard is we wait too long. Shorter, more frequent conversations are better than long, infrequent discussions.

Giving negative feedback doesn’t have to be so hard. Follow the suggestions above and remind yourself that the purpose of giving feedback is to be helpful. If you were doing the wrong work, you’d want to know. And others do too.

giving feedback

 

Giving Feedback – Don’t Give Unsolicited Advice

It’s hard to watch people do things that impact them negatively – personally or professionally. And yet, if they haven’t asked for feedback, people likely won’t listen to unsolicited advice, so don’t bother giving it.

If you really want to give unsolicited advice, ask for permission and make sure you get a true “yes” before speaking up.

The conversation could go something like this:

“I noticed we’re getting behind on the XYZ project. I have a couple of ideas about what we can do. Would you be interested in talking about them?” Or “That Monday meeting is rough. I feel for you. I used to run meetings like that. Would you be interested in talking about some meeting management strategies? I’d be happy to share what I’ve learned.”

After you offer to talk (aka, give your opinion), listen and watch the response you get. Do the person’s words and body language portray a true “yes, I’d like your opinion” or what seems like an “I know I’m supposed to say yes, but I’m really not interested” reply? If you get the latter, you’re likely just giving unwanted advice that won’t be heard. If that’s the case, let it go. But if the person appears generally interested and open, proceed.

You could also say something like:

“Last week we were talking about your frustrations about not being promoted. I have a couple of ideas about that. Do you want to talk about them? Either way is fine, but I thought I’d offer.”

Or “That was a tough conversation during today’s staff meeting. It’s hard to present ideas and not have them be embraced. I have a couple of thoughts about ways you can approach the conversation during the next meeting. Do you want to talk about them?”

If you extend the invitation to talk, the other person has to be able to say no. An invitation is only an invitation if “no” is an acceptable answer. You can’t ask if the person wants your input and then keep talking if they verbally or physically said no.

Be brave. If you care about someone personally or professionally and you see them doing something that gets in the way of their success, ask permission to say something. If you get the go ahead, proceed. If you get a “no thank you,” accept that and move on. You’ve done your part.

How to Say Anything to Anyone


Giving Feedback – Short and Frequent Feedback Is Best

If you want to freak out the people you work with, tell them, “We need to talk.” If you really want to freak them out, say those four magical words on a Friday, or even better, the day before someone goes on vacation. “We need to talk” is rarely followed by, “and you’re awesome.” People know bad news is likely coming, and they’ll inevitably be on edge.

The antidote to asking for time to talk is to create opportunities to give feedback regularly.

There are many reasons giving feedback is hard. One of them is we wait too long. Something happens. We know we should address it, but we don’t want to. So, we wait to see if the behavior is really ‘a thing.’ Then it happens again. And now we know it’s ‘a thing.’ But we still don’t want to address it. Then the situation gets really bad, and now we have to say something. The conversation then takes 90 minutes, is painful, and everyone goes home unhappy.

Here are two keys to make giving feedback easier:

Giving feedback strategy one: Debrief everything. Do a quick plus/delta a regular basis to assess how things are going. Plus – what went well? Delta – what would we change if we could/what did we learn?

I recommend doing a quick debrief at the end of important meetings, hiring processes, projects, and when anything changes. Conduct a short debrief when you have staffing changes, gain or lose a client, launch or eliminate a product or service, etc. Change is an opportunity to evaluate how you work and to make adjustments.

When you debrief important events, you tell people that feedback is important and that it’s ok to be candid. Conducting regular debriefs also gives employees a chance to practice giving feedback, which is a hard skill. And like anything, the more we give feedback, the easier it becomes.

Conducting short, regular debriefs is one of the easiest ways to learn from the past and become a more candid culture.

Giving feedback strategy two: Schedule five to fifteen minutes each week to talk as a team and with direct reports. When you know you have time each week to talk with your manager, direct reports, and team members, you never have to ask for time to talk. Issues don’t build up or linger. Breakdowns and frustrations are discussed within of few days of their occurrence, and no one is worried that bad news is coming at their end of their vacation.

The key to being effective at giving feedback is to give feedback regularly. Short, frequent feedback conversations are much more effective than infrequent, long conversations that everyone dreads and leaves feeling exhausted and demoralized.

Debrief everything meaningful. Meet with people weekly. Ask for and give feedback as things happen, and watch your culture change.

Giving feedback chapters


When Giving Feedback, Less Is More

People often hoard feedback until a situation becomes so frustrating that they can’t help but speak up. And because they waited too long to say what they think, many more words come tumbling out than is either necessary or helpful.

When it comes to giving feedback, less is more. Be specific, give an example or two, and stop talking.

If you want people to be receptive to your feedback, make it easier to hear by saying less. By saying less, I don’t mean don’t tell the truth or provide enough information that the person knows precisely what to do differently. I do mean, don’t provide more information than is necessary.

You are likely familiar with the phrase “let someone save face.” Allowing someone to save face requires saying just enough that the person knows what to do differently, but not so much that the person feels attacked.

giving feedback

Here are two examples of giving feedback do’s and don’ts:

Too much feedback: Last week you turned in a report that had five typos and had important pieces of information missing. I’m surprised you’d be so careless. It made our entire department look bad. I’m perplexed that you’d submit work without checking it first. What is leading you not to check your work and submit incomplete reports?

Don’t repeat feedback. Say it once and move on. And remove unnecessary judgments (careless) and share just the facts.

Just the right amount of feedback: The report you gave me last week had a few typos and was missing some important information. The report went to the client with those errors which didn’t reflect well on our department. What happened?

Too much feedback: I noticed you didn’t speak up during last week’s department meeting. People won’t know the value you provide if you don’t share what you’re working on. You need to be more vocal. People’s only exposure to you is often during our team meetings. If you don’t speak up, you won’t establish yourself as a leader in your department. People really need to know what you’re working on and the impact you’re making.

Redundant feedback feels critical and leaves the person feeling like they have been hit over the head with a mallet. 

Just the right amount of feedback: I noticed you didn’t speak during last week’s department meeting. Often, team members’ only exposure to you is during our weekly meetings. How can I help you feel comfortable speaking up so you can establish yourself as a leader in the department?

It’s easy to get carried away when giving feedback. We’re likely frustrated. And when our emotions run the show, it’s easy to say too much.

Here are three practices for giving feedback:

  1. Practice the 24-hour guideline and the one-week-rule. If you’re upset, wait 24-hours to give feedback, but not longer than a week after an event.
  2. Plan what you’re going to say both in writing and out loud. Practicing a conversation in your head is not the same as speaking it.
  3. Let someone you trust hear what you’re planning to say and ask that person how you can improve the feedback. Ask what you can remove without losing any of the message.

Planning a conversation is like packing for a trip. When packing for a trip, many people put their clothes on the bed, then put the clothing in a suitcase. Realizing they have way more than they need, they start taking things out of the suitcase. Eventually they arrive at their destination with much less than they initially packed, but still more than they need.

Use the same principles when planning a feedback conversation. Put every thought you have on paper, and then remove what you don’t need, leaving only the necessary points that tell the person just what they need to do differently.

When giving feedback, less is more. Tell the person what happened, why it’s a problem, and what they need to do differently. Then stop talking and let the person save face.

giving feedback


Give Feedback When You’re Not Upset

We’ve all received work from another person that wasn’t what we were expecting, hit reply, and told the other person what we thought. Then we dealt with the consequences.

A few tips for giving feedback to get more of what you want and less of what you don’t:

Don’t give feedback via email. Ever. You can’t manage your tone or see the person’s reaction.

Practice the 24-hour rule and the one-week guideline. Wait until you’re not upset to give feedback, but don’t wait longer than a week.

It’s almost impossible to give feedback without putting the other person on the defensive. Becoming defensive when receiving feedback is normal and natural. It’s a way to protect ourselves when we feel judged.

When people are defensive, it’s hard to listen and respond. The less defensive the other person becomes, the easier it is to communicate with that person. People will be less defensive if you give feedback when you’re calm and choose your words carefully.

Communicate in a way that the relationship needs versus what you need in the moment.

When we give feedback when we’re upset, we’re really communicating for us, not for the other person. I didn’t get what I want. I’m upset. And I’m going to tell you about it. Then the other person gets upset and now, in addition to you not getting what you wanted in the first place, you have to do damage control.

Communicating in a way the relationship needs means choosing the timing, words and method of communication that is likely to produce the result you want – the other person being able to hear you, while becoming minimally defensive, and taking action. Giving feedback when you’re upset, especially via email, will not produce the result you want. You’ll only damage your relationship.

Being an effective communicator and maintaining good business relationships requires patience and self-discipline. Wait to give feedback until you’re not upset. Don’t send an email. Pick up the phone or walk to the person’s desk. Deliver the feedback in a way the other person can hear you.  Be ready for the person to become defensive. It’s human to become defensive. You can’t eliminate defensiveness, but how you deliver feedback can greatly reduce defensiveness. And you’ll get more of what you want and less of what you don’t.


Got Negative Feedback? Get A Second Opinion.

People get defensive when they receive negative feedback. It’s hard not to. Everyone wants to be seen as competent, and when we receive negative feedback, our competence is called into question, so we react.

There are several things you can do to reduce others’ defensiveness – ensure you have a trusting relationship and thus have earned the right to give feedback, watch your words, deliver feedback in a private setting, etc. But for today, I’m going to focus on getting a second opinion.

If you want people to be more receptive to your feedback, consider encouraging them to get a second, third, or fourth opinion. I’m a fan of casual 360-degree feedback – when we ask for feedback from people both inside and possibly outside our organization. Think of 360-degree feedback like an orange, it’s all the way around, like a sphere. When you get 360-degree feedback, you gather input from all the different types of people you interact with, thus getting a more comprehensive and accurate picture of performance. There are different types of 360-degree feedback. 360-degree feedback ranges from a formal, online, anonymous survey to casual conversations. In this instance, I’m suggesting something I call The Core Team.

360 degree feedback

I suggest everyone has a Core Team of three to five people who love you, know you well, and have your back. Most important is that you trust these people. Your Core Team may be personal or professional relationships or a mixture of both. You may have worked with Core Team members or not. What all Core Team members have in common is that they know you well, want what’s best for you, and will tell you the truth when asked.

My core team consists of a friend from high school, two people I used to work with, and my dad. When I get feedback that I’m having a hard time reconciling, I ask people on my Core Team to validate the feedback. It doesn’t matter if they’ve worked with me or not. I am who I am. I do the same annoying stuff in my personal and professional relationships. A personal Core Team member can provide valid, professional feedback. Sometimes they agree with the feedback I’ve been given and sometimes they don’t. But I always get compelling information to think about. And because I trust the people on my Core Team, I listen to what they have to say.

Don’t be disheartened if people don’t trust your feedback and aren’t receptive. Instead, see their resistance as human and encourage them to get a second opinion. And then talk again a week or a couple of weeks. Listening to and incorporating feedback is a process. It takes time, courage, and patience.

360 degree feedback

Giving Feedback Requires Trust. No Trust, No Feedback.

When I led leadership development training for a large mutual fund company we offered a lot of training focused on helping people have hard conversations. Over time I realized that despite that I’d bought and offered the best training programs I could find, the training wasn’t helping. Managers didn’t give enough feedback, and when they did give feedback, employees were often left confused, wondering what they needed to do differently.

I decided that what was missing was the conversation before the crucial conversation. It wasn’t that managers didn’t know what they wanted to say; many managers felt they couldn’t say what they wanted to say. There wasn’t sufficient safety or permission for giving feedback, so managers said little or delivered messages that were so vague, employees were left wondering if there was a problem. This is how the idea for Candid Culture was born.

If you’re struggling with giving feedback, I doubt it’s the message that’s the challenge. The distinction between being able to tell the truth (as you see it) and saying nothing, is the quality of your relationship.

Think about the people – personal and professional – who can say anything to you. These are the people who can tell you the person you’re dating is wrong for you, that a piece of clothing is not flattering, or that you dropped the ball. You may not enjoy getting the feedback, but you’re able to hear what they have to say and take it in, because you know they care about you and have your best interests at heart. You trust their motives. When you trust people’s motives, they can say anything to you. When you don’t trust people’s motives, there is little they can say.

If you’re struggling to give feedback, evaluate your relationship by asking these questions:

  1. Does this person trust me?
  2. Does this person know that I have their back under any circumstances?

If the answer to either of the questions is no, it’s not giving feedback you’re struggling with, it’s the quality of your relationship. Work on building trust with this person and you’ll be able to say whatever you feel you need to say.

Here are four steps to building trusting relationships:

  1. Ask questions to get to know people better than you know them now. 
  2. Tell people you want them to succeed and demonstrate that by being supportive of their efforts.
  3. Set the expectation that you will give both positive and upgrade feedback as events happen, because you want the person to be successful.
  4. When you deliver feedback, be extremely specific. Feedback that is specific will be received much better than vague feedback, which is typically judgmental.

When people know that you respect and support them, you have a great deal of freedom to speak up. When people don’t trust your motives, giving feedback is almost impossible. The recipient will become defensive and dismiss whatever you say, rationalizing that you don’t like them.

Worry less about giving feedback – for now. Instead, build trust. Get to know people better, then work on giving feedback.


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