Feedback is an essential tool in building a successful team- it has the potential to increase employee engagement, fuel change and growth, and boost productivity. But it's not always easy to know how to give constructive feedback. Yet, knowing how to effectively give feedback is an essential professional skill for anyone in a managerial or supervisory position. We’ve put together a guide packed with our favourite tips from our two courses “Performance Matters: Praise” and “Performance Matters: Criticism” to guide you through an effective feedback session.
Constructive feedback creates a positive work environment but it can also improve employee performance. Constructive feedback can be effective whether it is positive or negative - in one study, 92% of respondents agreed with the assertion, “Negative (redirecting) feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance.” Giving your employees feedback is also a powerful tool to make them feel heard, seen, and listened to. In the same study quoted above, 69% of employees said they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better recognized.
Now imagine the benefits your practice can reap by having feedback sessions on a regular basis. Read on to learn more about how you can run constructive and productive feedback sessions.
Guide to providing constructive feedback
Before you give feedback to a team member - regardless of whether it's praise or criticism - you need to be clear on your intentions. Do you genuinely want to help a person to develop and improve? Or do you simply want to highlight something they did wrong? If your intention is to be helpful, chances are that you'll also be more compassionate towards the receiver - making it less likely they will feel attacked and become defensive. In turn, they are more likely to process what you are saying and take the necessary steps to improve.
But, if your intention is simply to highlight errors, you're less likely to be compassionate - leaving the receiver feeling attacked. And once the person feels attacked, they are less likely to absorb your feedback and act upon it. This is not to say that all feedback should be positive, but all feedback should be fair and balanced.
Create a safe space
It may surprise you to discover that people who receive feedback apply it only about 30% of the time. One reason for this is that people feel uncomfortable or unsafe - either with the environment they’re in or the person they’re talking to. Managers need to create a safe space for a feedback discussion to be constructive. Productive feedback sessions start with mutual respect, trust, and transparency. The goal is to create an environment for honest discussion without the fear of being judged.
The easiest way to create a safe space is by having the feedback discussion in an informal area where you can sit in private. Start by asking genuine questions such as “What have you done in your role that you're most proud of?”, “What do you enjoy the most about working here?”, “What are you struggling with?”, “How can we make things easier for you?”. Always make sure to practice active listening, ask clarifying questions and set aside enough time for the discussion - you don’t want to cut the meeting short!
Emotions play a big part in the feedback process. During a feedback session, people can feel a range of emotions such as embarrassment, shame, anger, pride, elation, and relief. To give feedback effectively, it's important to have empathy for what the receiver is experiencing. Put yourself in their shoes - how would you feel in the same situation? By being more attuned to the receiver's feelings, chances are that you can improve the communication between the two of you. In turn, you’ll be in a much better position to run a constructive feedback session.
Make it specific
People generally respond better to specific feedback. So always aim to be as clear and concise as possible when delivering constructive feedback. Saying "You need to be more talkative in meetings" is too ambiguous, and can be interpreted in a lot of different ways. Instead, you can say "You have a lot of good ideas. I want to hear at least one opinion from you in every meeting we're in together going forward". This statement is more specific and states in a positive manner how you want the recipient to approach the task. So, avoid vague or general examples that are open to interpretation.
Make it timely
The adult brain learns best when it's caught in action so don't wait until the annual performance review for giving your feedback. Has one of your lawyers won a challenging case, settled a dispute, or given a colleague a helping hand? If you give immediate praise while it's fresh in their memory you will not only show that you recognise their achievement but also encourage future efforts. Of course, the same goes for delivering constructive criticism. When delivered immediately, the receiver is more likely to understand and take the necessary steps to improve. However, if you're upset, it’s best to remove yourself from the situation to cool down before giving your feedback.
Giving and receiving feedback should be an ongoing conversation. Why not schedule regular feedback sessions with each member of your team?
Use the "Feedback Sandwich"
The human brain reacts differently to positive and negative feedback. Positive feedback stimulates the reward centers in the brain - leaving the recipient open for discussion. On the other hand, negative feedback indicates that something needs to change. The threat response will get triggered, and the recipient can easily become defensive. This doesn't mean you should stay away from negative or critical constructive feedback altogether - but it’s important to find ways to make it less threatening.
The "Feedback Sandwich" is a great tool to use when giving constructive criticism. This is where you offer praise on a specific point, then deliver constructive criticism, then finish up with a positive statement. Usually, this way of delivering constructive criticism helps to make people more receptive, and take it in their stride. If you’re curious to find out more about the concept of the “Feedback Sandwich”, check out our course “Effective Communication Skills for Lawyers”.
Don't treat the feedback conversation as a one-and-done. The follow up on your discussion is just as important as the conversation itself. Take notes on what has been discussed and the steps that need to be taken moving forward. And most important, check in once in a while with your team member to see how they are going and to show your appreciation when you see improvement. This shows that you care about their progress and it'll motivate them to keep up the good work.
Giving feedback is a skill and like any other skill, it needs to be learned. But we hope that this guide has given you a strong foundation for a successful feedback session.
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