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How to Provide Feedback in a Constructive Manner

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In a leadership and management training that I recently participated in, we discussed feedback, including tips for providing it and receiving it; and how a good leader seeks out feedback from others, and provides effective feedback as well.  Note:  I am certainly not an expert in this field, but I thought that some of the points we discussed would be helpful to share.

On average, an adult needs to hear the same thing three times from three different sources to truly understand/internalize that knowledge.  The meaning/message in the feedback is dependent on how the person speaking is communicating the information, AND how the person receiving the communication is interpreting the information, so providing effective feedback is very important to the success of a team and an organization’s goals.

However, providing feedback to someone can be scary, on both sides.  The person providing the feedback may not want to hurt the other person’s feelings, or on the other side of the spectrum – maybe they don’t even consider the other person’s feelings.  The person receiving the feedback may take it personally, or may choose to not listen to the feedback.  When providing feedback, it’s very important to remember to consider SBIR:

    • “S” stands for Situation – is the time/place in which you are providing feedback ideal and appropriate?  Will it embarrass the person receiving feedback to receive it here and now?  Also, is the feedback timely – i.e. will the person know what you are referring to because the situation happened recently?
    • “B” stands for Behavior – consider exactly what behavior you are providing feedback about, and aim to be as specific and descriptive as possible.  Also, when providing feedback, please think about the type of mood and environment you are creating with your behavior.  Are you standing with your arms crossed and not making eye contact, or are you talking in a more open and direct manner?  Nonverbal behaviors greatly affect how someone interprets what is being communicated to him/her.
    • “I” stands for Impact – how did someone’s actions affect the result or impact of a deliverable or a project, or how are his/her actions affecting the team dynamic?  It’s important to demonstrate how someone’s behavior is causing an impact on the end result, whether it is good or bad.
    • “R” stands for Request – Feedback should aim to be motivational, and encourage the individual to address their behavior/actions moving forward in a positive way, so with the feedback, there should be a specific request for how the person can change/amend their behavior to improve a situation.  Feedback should not be provided with the goal of causing frustration or anger – it may elicit those feelings anyway, but it should be focused on how the feedback can be used to help someone, or help a group, to ameliorate an issue, or even just make them aware of an issue.

Now, consider who you receive feedback from – in your personal life, you probably get feedback from your kids, significant other, friends, and family – and perhaps it is not always feedback that you would like to hear.  You probably receive feedback from your supervisor, maybe in an informal setting or a formal setting like an annual evaluation.  However, think about others from whom you might want to elicit feedback, but you don’t usually hear from, like your clients/customers, and your peers/colleagues.  You may work with them every day, but how often do you ask:  How did I manage this process?  How could I have improved this process?  They have advice about where you could have improved that you would not have noticed because you are so attached to the task at hand.

Receiving feedback can not only help improve your work, but it can improve your self-management skills.  It can help you realize some strengths and weaknesses that you may not have been aware of, and it can improve your own self-control and flexibility when dealing with tough situations.  All of these abilities are imperative to providing strong leadership in the workplace.

The views expressed in this document reflect the personal opinions of the author and are entirely the author’s own.  They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) or the United States Government.  USAID is not responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied herein.

Samantha L Corey is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Profile Photo Chuck Bayne

Great article Samantha! I love the acronym. Feedback is often not done because, as you point out, it is scary and it is scary because we’ve not been taught how to do it effectively. I’m putting your article in my tool kit! Thanks