Understanding When to Give Feedback

DEC14_4_179346329

Providing feedback is not merely a hoop to jump through when the time for performance reviews rolls around. It should be an ongoing process woven into the fabric of everyday work. That’s not to say that every behavior warrants input or a response. Feedback is most likely to have a positive, lasting effect when its focus is on behavior that the recipient is able to change and its delivery is well timed.

Offering feedback can be most useful in the following instances:

  • When good work, successful projects, and resourceful behavior deserve to be recognized
  • When the likelihood of improving a person’s skills is high, because the opportunity to use those skills again is imminent
  • When the person is already expecting feedback, either because a feedback session was sched­uled in advance or because she knows that you observed the behavior
  • When a problem cannot be ignored, be­cause the person’s behavior is negatively affecting a colleague, the team, or the organization

In other cases, feedback can be detrimental to the situation. Avoid giving feedback in these circumstances:

  • When you do not have all the information about a given incident
  • When the only feedback you can offer concerns factors that the recipient cannot easily change or control
  • When the person who needs the feedback appears to be highly emotional or especially vulnerable immediately after a difficult event
  • When you do not have the time or the patience to deliver the feedback in a calm and thorough manner
  • When the feedback is based on your personal preference, not a need for more effective behavior
  • When you have not yet formulated a possible solution to help the feedback recipient move forward

Bear in mind that when you give positive feedback frequently, your negative feedback, when it is warranted, will seem more credible and less threatening. Offering input only when problems arise may cause people to see you as unappreciative or petty.

Perceptions of pettiness are especially likely if the feedback recipient doubts your motives. Before you deliver feedback, be honest with yourself about why you want to give it. Sometimes you may be reacting to your own needs and preferences, not what is best for the team or organization.

For example, Sarah juggles more than one project at a time, works late every night, and often rushes to finish her work right before deadlines. She always gets everything done—and does it well—but that kind of schedule would stress you out. As Sarah’s colleague, you’re inclined to reach out to her to give her corrective feedback on her time-management skills. But before you tell her that she’s organizing her time poorly, first ask yourself whether her current time-management process actually diminishes the quality of her work. Sarah has always been good at collaborating with others, and her work has always been stellar. Perhaps she waits until the last minute because the added pressure helps her focus her energy toward a desired result. Perhaps she works late not because she doesn’t have enough time in the day, but because it gives her the opportunity for quiet reflection after others have left the office.

In this case, your own work style and preferences may be driving you to give Sarah corrective feedback when it really isn’t warranted. If Sarah detects that, she may be less likely to listen to necessary feedback that you offer in the future.

This post is adapted from the Harvard Business Review Press book 20-Minute Manager: Giving Effective Feedback.

Post your comment here

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *