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How to give feedback at work 
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How to give feedback at work 

August 24, 2020
Rob Lennon
Customer Education Lead at Hugo
Marketer and author with experience spanning a diverse 16 years in retail and SaaS startups across healthcare, mar-tech, and ad-tech, and productivity software sectors.

In any group of humans, let alone humans who work together, giving feedback feels like a high-stakes poker game.

But it only feels that way because it’s not something you typically get taught to do—you can learn how to give feedback at work. 

And when you practice it, you’ll get even better. To help you do that, this post will cover the following topics:

  • Finding the Right Time and Place to Give Feedback
  • For Employees: Giving Feedback to Your Boss
  • For Managers: Giving Feedback to Your Direct Report
  • Feedback Messaging and Delivery Tips

Finding the right time and place to give feedback

Most anyone who has worked on a team knows it’s better to deliver feedback in a more intimate setting than a company-wide meeting. But when, exactly, should you give feedback?

According to Lattice, an HR software company, the best times to give feedback are during:

  • Check-in sessions
  • Performance reviews
  • One-on-one meetings

On top of those three, project retrospectives also present a good opportunity to provide feedback. As do anonymous surveys, if your company runs them. 

Of course, things get more difficult if your boss or direct report is not receptive to feedback, but we’ll cover that in the next two sections.

And if you’re looking for ways to systematize regular feedback exchange at your organization, try adding feedback as an item in your agenda templates.

How to give feedback to your boss

Author of HBR Guide to Dealing with Conflict, Amy Gallo writes that, while giving feedback to your boss is “a tricky process to master,” insight from direct reports can simultaneously help managers and improve the manager-direct report relationship.

In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Gallo sets out six simple principles for providing feedback to your boss, which are paraphrased below:

Do:

  1. Be certain your boss is receptive to feedback before speaking up.
  2. Share your perspective on what you’re seeing and hearing. 
  3. Focus on how you can help your boss improve, not on what you would do in their position.

Don’t:

  1. Assume your boss doesn’t want feedback if she doesn’t request it
  2. Presume you fully comprehend your boss’s situation
  3. Give feedback in a vengeful way

It’s also important to remember that it’s not just up to your boss to create an environment where feedback is given effectively. You, your colleagues, and your bosses each play a role in improving team communication.

How to give feedback to your direct reports

Just because it’s the manager’s job to provide feedback doesn’t mean it’s easy to do it well. Regardless of your job role, giving feedback requires strong relationships As Gallo says, “Without trust, the feedback will be impossible to receive.”

Leadership Coach, and best-selling author, Christine Comaford agrees: “If your employee does not feel safe and supported, then giving feedback is meaningless,” she says.

In fact, “building rapport” is one component of Comaford’s four-part “Feedback Frame.” The other three parts are:

  1. Acknowledge what’s working well first
  2. Be specific
  3. Keep it short

Managers should also remember to approach the feedback conversation with openness and attention. This simple change in attitude will greatly enhance the quality of workplace communication.

Feedback messaging and delivery tips

Whether you’re at the bottom or top of the chain of command, framing and delivering feedback thoughtfully is key. 

On delivering feedback, David Hassell, CEO of 15Five, recommends that you: 

  1. Avoid the sandwich approach: be transparent with corrective feedback—don’t beat around the bush.
  2. Make it a discussion: your feedback can come off as combative if you don’t allow the receiver to ask questions. Plus, by encouraging dialogue, you both have ownership of the issue.

On messaging, John Baldoni, a leadership consultant, coach, and author notes three important things to remember when framing your feedback:

  1. Focus on your perspective

Assume you don’t know the whole story—because you probably don’t—and share your perspective. Even very self-aware people don’t always know who they’re being perceived. So simply letting someone know what you saw and heard is often constructive in itself.

  1. Point things out in terms of what matters to your audience

If you know your colleague, direct report, or boss reasonably well, you know what matters to them. For example, you can point out concrete ways in which certain behaviors are stopping your audience from achieving their goals. 

  1. Use specific details rather than generalities

When you give feedback, make sure you have a specific event in mind. People generally learn through example, explanation, and experience.  By pointing to a specific event, you make it easier for your audience to understand your point.

Seek out blind spots and improve

No one can completely avoid the blind spots created by biases, assumptions, and misunderstandings… and that’s where feedback comes in.

But as important as delivery, timing, and messaging are, a good culture is foundational to giving and receiving feedback. So if you’d like to improve your, and your colleagues’, ability to give feedback, check out the free ebook, 10X Culture.

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Rob Lennon
Customer Education Lead at Hugo
Marketer and author with experience spanning a diverse 16 years in retail and SaaS startups across healthcare, mar-tech, and ad-tech, and productivity software sectors.

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