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Feedback: Six steps to ensure you are giving it properly and that your colleagues are listening to it

Whether you’re an employer, a team manager or simply a concerned colleague, the ability to give and receive feedback is a vital part of any business environment.

Members of your staff or team will actively expect and even desire feedback from you as a leader, and a colleague whose not performing can be a detriment to the rest of the team, including you.

However, the task of actually giving feedback that is constructive is not so simple: According to Dr. Kevin Ochsner at Columbia University, feedback only improves performance 30% of the time, and actually makes matters worse in 40% of cases.

Considering this – and the other myriad complications of communication – here are six steps you should follow when giving feedback. These will help make sure that what you say is useful to your colleague and ensure that they will not only be willing to hear it but also make use of it.

1. Build relationships and trust with your colleagues

The basis of any successful and meaningful interaction is a positive, stable relationship. This is not a controversial idea, and neither is that of being friendly and personable with your colleagues and employees.

However, exchanging a “good morning” and making small talk about the weather isn’t enough for you to be able to speak honestly to your colleague about their performance.

If they are to listen, your colleague must not only trust your expertise but believe that you earnestly care about their career: you have to show that you care about them and want to help them succeed before trying to give them feedback.

(Need more help with building rapport? Check out our blog article here!)

2. Understand your colleague first, give suggestions second

In order to give thoughtful as well as specific feedback, you must have an understanding of the reasons behind your colleague’s decisions or work-ethic.

When there is a problem, you must understand why it has arisen and where it has come from in order to solve it. In this sense, the only way to change how your colleague does things is to understand how and why they do things the way do in the first place.

If you are building a relationship with them properly, you should already be listening to how your colleague feels about their work and be gaining an insight into their mindset.

3. Be specific and timely

Once you feel you and your colleague are comfortable enough to exchange feedback, make sure you don’t just give general comments or hints about what they should do be doing.

Provide examples of things they have done or are doing that are positive or require improvement so they know what to focus on.

Don’t just tell them “you’re doing great,” or “there’s more you could be doing” without context; it will simply go in one ear and out the other.

The other side of the coin with this is that you need to be immediate in bringing issues forward. Naturally, you need to create an environment in which you can give feedback first, but it’s no use bringing up mistakes from months earlier. If there is a problem, it needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

4. Don’t patronize or sugarcoat

It is often said you should offer positive reinforcement alongside any negative criticism you give someone: Psychology Today describes the ‘sandwich’ approach, in which you serve a complement on either side of the meat of the discussion, the criticism.

However, this is also something to be careful with. Some people may immediately think you are coddling or trying to console them rather than being honest about your thoughts, making them distrustful.

This doesn’t mean you should be completely frightened of giving complements with critique – many people will respond positively – but make sure you are still firm and direct in your suggestions for improvement.

5. Make time and opportunities for improvement

You’ve succeeded in creating a trusting relationship, diagnosed a problem and delivered feedback on it successfully, with words of understanding and affirmation exchanged all round.

Now comes the most important part: don’t just leave them alone to ponder the situation.

Isolation breeds anxiety; how many times has a partner or close friend made a passing comment or well-intentioned critique that seemed perfectly fine at the time, but then rattled around your head for days on end?

You need to make the process of giving and applying feedback co-operative and continuous: find time to consult with your colleague about their thoughts on the feedback and create opportunities to work together on making improvement.

Perhaps not on a day-to-day basis – that may quickly become overbearing – but you should be thinking about having these conversations regularly, if only for the sake of maintaining trust and nudging them to think about what you’ve said.

6. Sharing feedback is a two-way street

This is not so much a sixth step as it is something to keep in mind. So far, we’ve gone through how to successfully give feedback to a colleague or employee, but at any point, someone might want to make a suggestion to you.

If you are to build and maintain an environment in which people are willing to share and receive feedback, it is integral that you are open to receiving feedback yourself!

Naturally, this comes with the caveats of what we’ve said so far – it must be appropriate, delivered properly and then worked upon co-operatively – but if those are met, it is on you to respond in kind.

You may think that, being out-of-the-office virtual assistants, it would be difficult for us to build relationships with colleagues and clients, but that could not be further from the truth.

Due to the great number and variety of persons we work with, our team at PA Business Support has great expertise in creating and maintaining rapport with not only our clients, but their colleagues, employees and clients in turn.

Alongside this, our specialist knowledge in recruitment gives us a unique edge in analyzing and evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of our clients’ current and prospective employees.

If you, by-chance, need more specific feedback on how to build better relationships with or motivate your employees to do better, do get in touch with us via email here or on 020 3621 8076 to speak to Sophie and Sabina directly.

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