How to make feedback a developmental opportunity

Many employees cringe at the thought of getting feedback from their manager. Who wouldn’t blame them? It tends to be overly critical, given with haste and without care, and confusing. So often, the feedback given is often useless to the receiver.

Wouldn’t it be great if your feedback could have the potential to help others grow and develop?

There are some simple steps you can take to make sure the feedback message has been received and will be put to good use as a learning tool.

Be direct: Say what you need to say in a direct, brief way. Don’t beat around the bush, and don’t embellish. Simply state what you’ve observed in a way that will be understood by the receiver. Speak from the first person “I noticed…..” or “I was told…..” rather than “You did not…..” or “You were wrong when….”, which may decrease defensiveness.

Give it non-judgmentally: While you’re being direct and to the point, avoid stating judgments about the feedback you’re giving. Being non-judgmental and neutral in your feedback may help the person you’re giving it to be more open and less defensive.

Listen without interrupting: Once you give the feedback, let the receiver say what they need to say without your interruption. This is hard when emotions can be high, but your listening ear can de-escalate the situation and help the receiver to think through the feedback they’ve been given as they speak.

Show some empathy: It’s easy to assume an evil intent of the person you’re giving feedback to, but realistically, we never know what’s inside someone’s mind that motivates them to do something. Do your best to put yourself in their shoes and see their errors from their standpoint; validate their experience if you can. This doesn’t mean you agree, it simply means you understand them.

Ask them what they will do: A big part of their learning is for them to figure out what to do with the feedback they’ve received. You can help them to think through the situation going forward by asking them how they will deal with it if it happens again. Do your part by letting them know you will support them.

Follow up: Revisit the situation with them at an agreed-upon time and date. Encourage them in every way you can to help them to stay on top of the situation without personally meddling in problem solving yourself. Show them that you trust them and ask them if they need your help.

Feedback can be the beginning of development for many people. Do your part to help them learn from the information you provide by being direct, non-judgmental, listening well, showing empathy, helping them to think through next steps, and following up with them.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.