Feedback: It’s a Dialogue not a Monologue!

iStock_000025908035XSmallIn most organizations when employees are asked what they would like most from their managers – -the answer is feedback.  People want to know where they stand. They want to know if your perception of their performance is the same as their own.  Providing effective feedback is therefore a key skill set for leaders looking to develop high performers.  Yet, in many cases providing feedback is a skill that causes the most discomfort for new and long-term supervisors.

For many years, when providing feedback I would follow a structured (and I believed effective) process; preparing my notes, completing any necessary paperwork, scheduling a time with my team member, delivering balanced feedback (or so I hoped) and developing action plans with the team member on their areas of improvement. There was always time for the team member to respond at the end.  Sometimes they would have questions or comments and sometimes there would be a short dialogue. If I am honest, there was always some trepidation about any kind of lengthy discussion.

I had the opportunity to work with someone who believed that feedback was not about the process or piece of paper but about the dialogue created between the team member and their supervisor.  I decided to take the plunge and focus on encouraging dialogue when giving feedback.  It was a little uncomfortable getting started for both myself and my team member.  I spent a lot of time asking them what they thought rather than telling them what I thought first.  They were not always prepared for this.  The discomfort quickly went away as feedback became more of a two-way conversation with both parties sharing and learning. I   I now call opportunities to give feedback, Feedback Conversations or Feedback Discussions.
Here are some tips for turning your feedback from a monologue to a dialogue:

  • Prepare – I still prepare however, I also prepare my team member.  I schedule our conversation well in advance so we can plan other obligations around it. I tell   them I am looking forward to our conversation and ask them to prepare as well by evaluating their performance and bringing their feedback to the conversation.  I also still complete the necessary forms, however, the “piece of paper” doesn’t come out until the end of the dialogue.
  • Location, location, location – I ensure we have a location for our conversation where we will not be interrupted. Having spent my career in the restaurant industry, that is usually challenging in the restaurant.  Many times we would go around the corner to the coffee shop for our conversation.
  • Come from the right place – Feedback should be about helping people to succeed, not about failing.
  • Keep it private – there is nothing worse than a team member feeling like they are on display as they are receiving feedback from their supervisor.
  • Be direct, honest and respectful – Make sure your feedback is specific and clear.  You want your team member to understand your expectations.  At the same time, be respectful so they don’t feel deflated.
  • Don’t make it personal, focus on job performance – Team members may become defensive if they feel the feedback is personal.  Keep it focused on behaviors related to their performance on the job.
  • Ask and listen – Team members may not be used to dialogue based feedback.   Encourage their thoughts by asking them how they think they are doing before sharing your perspective.  Practice your listening skills and acknowledge their point of view before offering your own.
  • One size does not fit all – different people react to feedback differently.  Be sensitive to this and approach each conversation based on the individual.
  • Keep it balanced – be sure you alternate between strengths and accomplishments as well as opportunities areas.
  • Do it regularly and often – feedback should not be an event.  Making it part of the regular routine, formal or informal, with your team reduces nervousness, encourages participation, increases the effectiveness and improves performance faster.

Today, I not only look forward to my feedback conversations with team members, I am energized by them.  How do you encourage feedback dialogue with your team?

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