What is Feedback?

Put simply, feedback is:

“A communication to a person, which gives them information about their performance, their behaviour and its impact”

Feedback IS:

  • Always given with a positive intention – i.e. to help someone maintain or improve their effectiveness
  • Giving information to another person to raise their awareness
  • Focused on specific, observable things
  • A key part of the working environment we wish to create within our organisation

Feedback ISN’T:

  • Someone’s judgement or opinion of someone else’s personality or attitude
  • A tool to make the person giving it feel better
  • An opportunity to criticise someone
  • The responsibility of team leaders alone

Why is feedback important?

In the previous section you gave some thought to what it was, or would have been like, to be on the receiving end of feedback that was delivered badly.
Imagine a world where no one ever gave you feedback:

  • How would you know what you were doing well, so that you could receive proper praise and encouragement for what you did that was effective?
  • How would you react if someone told you months later about something that you’d being done for a long time done that was ineffective, but hadn’t given you chance to put it right because they didn’t tell you?

Giving feedback is key to:

  • helping others to become aware of how what they do and say impacts on those around them – for good or for bad
  • supporting others’ development
  • encouraging and praising our colleagues

Receiving feedback is key to:

  • raising our awareness of how others see us
  • enabling us to understand how our behaviour impacts on other people
  • helping us to grow and develop

One way of looking at this is to think of ourselves in terms of the different facets that are part of us all as individuals. A model that captures this is Johari Window. It was developed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham – hence the name. It is useful as a framework for exploring and extending self-awareness.

What types of feedback are there?

We’ve talked a great deal about feedback in general terms, but now it’s time for specifics.

Here are some possible situations that you may have covered in your answers:

  • You’ve noticed your colleague behaving in a way that resulted in a really positive outcome
  • You’ve observed behaviour that a colleague could change or improve to perform more effectively
  • The colleague asks you for feedback

Whilst the principles are the same in all three situations, the type of feedback you give will need to be different in situations 1 and 2.

Motivational feedback

  • Relates to what went well, or was effective
  • Aims to reinforce the effective behaviour
  • Helps to build the individual’s confidence

Developmental (or formative) feedback

  • Relates to what could be done differently or better
  • Aims to give ideas on how to change the ineffective behaviour
  • Helps to build the individual’s competence

Remember – the intention of feedback is always positive, even if it is developmental – you’re giving the feedback with the intention of helping them to become more effective.

How do I give feedback?

The bad news is that there are also risks attached to giving feedback, and typical risks include:

  • Loss of confidence on the part of the person to whom feedback is given
  • Discomfort for both people
  • Disagreement or argument
  • Loss of motivation on the part of the person to whom feedback is given
  • A sense of rejection
  • A deterioration in the relationship

On the opposite side of the coin, there are considerable benefits to be derived from giving feedback, and these include:

  • Increased confidence on the part of the person to whom feedback is given
  • Concerns are surfaced
  • Different perceptions are aired
  • The relationship can improve or become closer
  • Increased motivation on the part of the person to whom feedback is given
  • Feedback can be exchanged the other way
  • Learning takes place
  • Job performance can improve
  • The recipient can achieve their objectives

The good news however, is that those risks can be overcome, or substantially reduced, and the benefits achieved if the feedback is:

  • Constructed properly,
  • Delivered appropriately and
  • Well intentioned

It doesn’t matter whether you’re giving feedback on performance or behaviour; the principles are the same:

  • Performance = the way in which someone does the technical aspects of their job
  • Behaviour = the way in which someone relates to, or behaves towards, other people

Whenever you are giving feedback, you will need to consider not only how to deliver the feedback, but also the situation in which it is given and the person to whom you are giving it.

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