Seven Guiding Principles
Little and often: research shows clearly that people can only handle one or two pieces f feedback in a single session. If you try to give more than this in an effort to “get it all done in one go”, you will overload the individual. The result will frequently be that none of the messages will be heard or accepted.
Focus on behaviours not beliefs: our brains are very good at making assumptions based upon limited supporting evidence. Whilst a very useful attribute in evolutionary terms (that tree moved so there must be a lion behind it – run away!) it isles helpful in terms of getting people to accept their shortcomings. If you focus on what you believe rather than what you have actually seen or hear, you risk misreading the situation and losing credibility or alienating your member of staff.
Back up with facts: the natural reaction of many people is to become defensive when they perceive they are being criticised. Some people will reject feedback outright and argue against your message. It is a fundamental requirement that you can support your message with evidence.
Balance positive and negative: most people find feedback more acceptable if there is a balance between the positives and negatives. The traditional approach is the “feedback sandwich” where you start on a “high”, progress to the criticism and finish on another high. This does not always work, however, as some people tend to filter out selectively either the good or the bad message – dependent on their personality and self-esteem. In these cases, you need to make a careful judgement as to the best way to balance your message to ensure it is accepted appropriately.
Support rather than threaten: people will tend to respond far better if they believe that your role is not to sit in judgement but to help them improve by working with them. This will mainly be created through your day to day management style but can be reinforced in an appraisal meeting through your body language, tone of voice, style of questioning and the overall quality of the interaction.
Ask rather than tell: if you want people to change their behaviour, they need to be motivated to do it. Motivation comes from within and you are more likely to achieve “buy-in” to the changes if you encourage the person to think for themselves and take ownership of the process. Feedback should therefore be a process of asking a series of open questions that gradually lead the individual to identify the performance shortfall for themselves and decide what they should do to put it right.
Plan when and where: do not underestimate the importance of allowing enough time to work through the feedback until the individual “owns the necessary changes in behaviour”. If you have prioritised your messages and used skilled questioning, this can be done quite quickly but you should always allow enough time so that you do not have to rush off before you have achieved your aim. On the other hand, a good feedback session is very tiring mentally for both parties and if you find that you are taking much more than an hour and a half, you will need to call a halt and pick up another day. Clearly you also need to ensure that you give feedback somewhere where you can be assured of privacy and the ability to avoid interruptions.