For most professionals, the idea of giving or receiving feedback is uncomfortable at best, and may even be downright cringe-worthy. There’s also a prominent line of thought that all “feedback” is negative—especially among those who work for or with people who only communicate when there’s a problem, and never provide positive feedback.
However, feedback is critical to a high-performing organization. Studies have shown that a lack of communication contributes to 80 percent of issues in the workplace.
If you’re one of the many who struggle with feedback, here are five tips to help you give and receive feedback that’s positive and worthwhile for yourself, your team, and your organization.
Make feedback a daily habit
Feedback is often associated with annual reviews or performance reports, but it doesn’t have to be formal—and it shouldn’t require a stack of forms or a permanent file. Offering casual feedback on a regular basis is a great way to improve your ability to give and receive it, as well as an excellent opportunity to make positive changes in your company.
The best time to give casual feedback is immediately after the action that prompted the feedback. This includes both positive and negative actions, whether it’s interrupting a meeting inappropriately or a particularly great customer service activity.
Don’t classify feedback as “positive” and “negative”
While the actions of employees or co-workers may be helpful or poor, you can provide better and more balanced feedback by viewing it as simply feedback—neither positive, nor negative. If you see feedback as a neutral, almost journalistic action, you’ll be able to get your point across clearly without offending the receiver of the feedback.
You can apply this same idea to receiving feedback yourself. Even if the person offering feedback frames the message in positive or negative terms, remind yourself that it’s simply information that could be useful. This helps you avoid responding emotionally, and ensures you get the most value from the feedback being given.
Consider your feedback goals
Before you decide what to say when giving feedback, you should understand why you want to say it. Having a goal helps you deliver feedback that is relevant, useful, and helpful to the person receiving it.
Ask yourself questions like, “What kind of information do my employees need? What would help them succeed in their jobs?” The broad goals of any feedback should be to let employees know how they’re doing and to encourage positive, productive behavior in the future.
Assume the best intentions
If you’re offering critical feedback to an employee, approach with the assumption that their actions had a positive intent. Assume that your employees want to perform positively and effectively—and you’re simply offering feedback that will help them accomplish those positive goals. In truth, most people are looking to do better, and will appreciate suggestions that will help them succeed.
Particularly when it comes to critical feedback, it’s important to talk about specific examples of actions and behaviors that should be improved, rather than making general, broad statements. For example, if you notice an employee walking past a customer who’s clearly in need of help, state that in your feedback—rather than accusing the employee of being insensitive to customers’ needs.
And if you’re receiving feedback, seek out specific details when they’re not given. Remain non-defensive in your tone and body language, and ask for details about the situation, such as a specific example that the person giving the feedback might have observed.
Giving and receiving feedback doesn’t have to be painful or uncomfortable. When you make feedback a habit and approach with the viewpoint of using it as a helpful, effective communication tool, great feedback can benefit your entire organization.