How to Give Fair and Impactful Feedback

Giving feedback isn’t easy! However, it’s something managers must do to keep employees engaged and informed. Failing to provide feedback or allowing bias to creep into the process are equally concerning and may result in disengagement, loss of productivity, and cultural rifts. Today, we’ll discuss how to give feedback, outline the common struggles and risks of giving bad feedback, and discuss how managers can learn to deliver effective, honest, fair, and impactful feedback that motivates and drives results.


Tips on How to Give Fair and Impactful Feedback

Here are a few essential tips to consider when providing feedback.


1.     Provide feedback immediately

Giving feedback is an integral part of any professional relationship. It helps keep everyone on the same page and working towards the same goal. However, it’s also vital to ensure that your feedback is constructive and helpful, and that requires an immediate response. Waiting too long after the fact or allowing several issues to stack up over time can confuse and overwhelm. Immediate feedback helps prevent misunderstandings and relieves the frustration managers might feel around addressing an uncomfortable situation.


2.     Focus on the action, not the person

Focusing on the action or behavior—rather than the person—can be a difficult distinction to make, but it’s an important one. For example, if an employee makes a mistake, it’s easy to criticize in a way that makes the person feel like they are less than.

In personalizing your response, you put the individual on the defensive and make them feel bad about themselves. Instead, try to focus on the action. For example, you could say something like, “I noticed that you didn’t proof your work before turning it in. Next time, could you please take a few extra minutes to review your work before handing it in?” This kind of feedback is specific and objective. It doesn’t make the person feel bad about themselves, but it does encourage them to change their behavior in the future.


3.     Make the exchange mutual

Addressing the need to change can be difficult. Making the conversation a mutual endeavor is a way to achieve the results you want without causing undue stress to either party. Focus on why you need to have the conversation and what the impacts of the desired change will be. State your positive intentions in providing the feedback and connect it to the employee’s positive motivations.

For example, you know that your employee wants to be viewed as a capable and helpful part of the team. Perhaps you can express your concern that the person’s performance makes it difficult for others to see them in that light.

Keep in mind also that a mutual discussion requires some listening on your part. Perhaps you should lead by asking the individual to tell you their perspective. You may gain valuable insight into why the behavior happened in the first place—which might force you to adapt your response.


4.     There’s a time and place for feedback

Feedback is a critical part of any professional relationship. It allows us to assess our performance, identify areas for improvement, and build strong and productive partnerships. However, feedback also needs to be delivered in a way that is respectful, constructive, and founded on trust.

If you cannot offer feedback in the moment, choose your time and place carefully. Think about times when the individual will be most receptive to the exchange and try to avoid moments like just before a meeting or when they’re about to leave for the weekend. Context is critical if you want what you say to penetrate. If you require a more formal setting, do it early in the day at the start of the work week, so they have a chance to put your suggestions into action.


5.     Contextualize the problem

There are times when bias creeps into performance review scenarios and results in an unfair situation assessment. For example, you may have a female employee working from home, and you feel she is not collaborating adequately with her team. Ask yourself first how you feel about their work and contribution in general—and then think about whether you would think differently about the situation if she was in the office every day. It’s easy to disregard employees you don’t see all the time. Perhaps she needs to adapt her schedule to engage with in-office staff more. Don’t immediately assume the problem lies with her.

This is just one example, but it covers two types of bias: gender and proximity. It also shows how difficult bias can be to recognize. Other aspects of bias include racism, ageism, affinity bias (preference for people who are more like ourselves), and attribution bias (the misconception that women are less competent than men).

Contextualizing the problem before you give feedback means tying the issue to specific business goals without the influence of conscious or unconscious bias.


6.     Focus on the future

As a manager, one of your most important jobs is to elevate your employees. Actionable feedback is a way to accomplish this and will almost always improve performance. Feedback often focuses on events that happened in the past. While the core issue likely happened before your conversation took place, the future is where the change will happen—so that’s what you need to focus on.

Spend less time talking about the event itself than you do about the improvements you want to see. You can’t do much about what’s already happened, but you can shape how things move forward. With a positive outlook, a clear and actionable plan, and an honest, two-way dialogue, much can be accomplished.


Final Thoughts

When providing feedback, we should always be clear, direct, and specific. Above all, we must strive to be fair. To maximize the impact of feedback, managers must remain objective, be aware of hidden biases, and allow employees to provide their own perspectives. Feedback isn’t always easy to give, but we all improve with practice.

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