How to give and receive feedback

Giving and receiving feedback on the job are rarely easy. Both skills, however, are worth practising and mastering.

Thoughtful feedback promotes positive change. It doesn’t leave a person feeling as though he or she has been dumped on by a boss or colleague.

“The intent is to help,” says Sheryl Hansen, a NAIT organizational development services consultant who teaches feedback techniques to staff on campus.

Those who learn to accept feedback with a positive attitude can benefit in many ways. They can act on the advice, of course, which in turn may create a reputation for professionalism – and demonstrate a willingness to grow in a job.

Here, Hansen explains how to have the greatest impact no matter what end of the feedback spectrum you happen to occupy.

Giving feedback

Ask to meet – don’t dictate a time and place – and be specific about the topic so the other person has time to prepare.

When you meet, be SMART

  • Specific – Give examples. “Use ‘I’ statements,” says Hansen. “It’s about what I heard, felt or observed.”
  • Meaningful – The recipient of the feedback needs to be able to understand why it matters and how it impacts his or her performance.
  • Accurate – Make sure you have correct information.
  • Respectful – Use a professional tone and body language. Don’t lean aggressively across a desk, Hansen offers as an example, and don’t rush. Ensure your meeting place provides adequate privacy. Let the recipient ask questions and feel heard.
  • Timing – Don’t wait for an annual review to raise several concerns at once. Address the issue soon after the behaviour or incident has taken place.

    When using the SMART technique, avoid the “sandwich.” Hansen advises against starting with a positive comment, pointing out a behaviour that needs fixing, then ending with another positive point.

    “When we try to surround corrective feedback with positive it’s not effective because you lose the essence of the middle.”

Receiving feedback

  • Be open – Understand that the other person is trying to help. Maintain open body language and stay calm. “Take the stance that this is for my growth,” says Hansen. Don’t get defensive.
  • Confirm – Paraphrase and reframe what’s been said to ensure you understand. 
  • Don’t interrupt – Let the other person speak and listen carefully.
  • Ask – If you need clarification, ask for it.
  • Stop the conversation – If either of you is getting upset, suggest resuming the conversation later.

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