by Caroline Cooper, October 2010
People will not become great at their jobs unless they know where they
are doing well, so they can keep on doing these things, and where they
need to change to get a better result. For many employees it is a
case of 'No new is good news', as they only get to hear if things go wrong.
Have you ever worked in that type of environment?
The giving and receiving of feedback is probably one of the most vital
skills in management. Feedback is not only key for improving and
perfecting performance, but - done in a constructive way - is highly motivational.
But how many of us hate giving feedback or think that you don’t know
how to give it in a way that will have any impact?
Why is it that we shy away from both giving it and receiving it?
There are a number of reasons why managers fear giving feedback.
am I to judge?' 'It won't be valued', 'It will give them a chance to have
a go at me.' 'They must realise that they are doing it wrong / right'
'When I've given feedback before, it has made no difference; I feel like
I am wasting my breath.'
One of the key reasons we shy away from it is the fear that it won't
be accepted, that we will be challenged on it and put in an awkward situation.
Feedback can be badly received when it's:
Too generalised – not specific enough for effective action to be taken
Too personal – based on the person, not the issue(s)
Based on something which is not within their power to do anything about
Heavily critical – without suggestions for improvement
Focused exclusively on the past – recent changes/improvements not taken
Based on hearsay and gossip – not enough facts to support the arguments
An excuse to seek blame – rather than seeking solutions
We've probably also all been on the other side of the feedback and know
that many people are equally uneasy about receiving it. So before
thinking about how to give feedback it is also worth thinking about it
from the recipient's viewpoint. Why are we so reluctant to ask for
feedback? Is this fear of the unknown, or that we don't want to be
told what we already know? Does it make us feel exposed, vulnerable or
even feel a fool? Or maybe it is lack of respect for the person giving
the feedback - what do they know, who are they to judge? If
we get feedback it may imply that we need to change the way we do things.
So how do we give feedback in a way that minimises the things holding
us back from giving it and makes it easier for the recipient, making them
more receptive to it? And how do we avoid the pitfalls and make the
feedback you give is so accurate that it can't be challenged?
One way to do this is by using a very simple model: S A I D
When giving feedback, particularly on poor performance, it's useful
to know what you are benchmarking this against. If people don't know what
is expected of them, it is very easy to get defensive. So establish
the standards you expect and communicate these. You may not always
need to refer to these during the feedback process, but be mindful of these
as you give the feedback.
What is the action they performed? Emphasis is on their actions,
not on your interpretation of it. So you are feeding back what you
observed or heard, not on their intentions, their personality or their
character. Limit the number of actions you comment on a level they
can handle - far better to give feedback on one key action that they can
digest and build on to make a difference, than ten things which leaves
the message diluted (and invariably leaves them demotivated). Because
this is based on fact it is less likely to be challenged. Link back to
the standard if necessary to highlight where people have exceeded or fallen
What impact did their actions have on the result? This can include
positive or negative impact on the end result, or on the process itself
e.g. the amount of effort needed on their part to achieve the result, or
the impact on others, etc. When giving praise it is so easy to say
to someone 'that was really good, well done' without saying why it was
good or what made the difference this time compared with previous occasions.
How can they build on this for the future? Remember, the purpose
of feedback is to enhance performance and motivate. So this last
stage is important to determine what happens next e.g. develop to make
it even better next time around, to correct a mistake or to perfect a process.
Put the emphasis on what is missing rather than what is wrong - building
on strengths or positives is far more likely to engender enthusiasm. Using
open questions, ask the individual how they think things can be developed
or built upon. This will help to gain buy in and you may be surprised
by the options they suggest.
Here are the three key situations for giving feedback within the workplace.
When all is going well – feedback and praise.
Mixed performance – feedback mixed with positive and corrective action.
When all is not well – feedback to address under-performance.
This model works equally well in all three.
Some of you may recall something referred to as 'The Praise Sandwich.'
The problems with the praise sandwich are that, in fact, it is a bad news
sandwich, and usually the 'filling' (i.e. the bad news) is so thin
and the 'bread' or praise element so thick and fluffy, that the key message
gets completely lost. The result the person remembers the first and
last part of the discussion - the praise - and not the part you want to
change. The result is that nothing changes. Using the SAID
model people know exactly what the issue is. But by understanding
the impact it has had, and having been given as opportunity to put forward
their own ideas to avoid it in future, they will still come out of it with
some dignity, and you are far more likely to see something change for the
If people perceive themselves to be under attack they will make attempts
to protect themselves. Here are some of the reactions you may need to be
“I’m not the only one who does that”
“There’s no way I can change – why should I?”
“I’m not to blame for that”
“I can explain”
“What about them, they’re not perfect”
“Is this what people have been thinking about me? And all the
time I thought they liked me”
Refusing to Listen
“Here we go again”
“That wasn’t my fault – I was told the wrong things”
Distrust of the Person/Process
“It’s obvious – someone’s got an axe to grind”
Masking True Feelings
“I’ll rise above this – I don’t care”
“I knew they were going to bring that up. Well, let me tell you
my side …”
Concentrating on the person behind the feedback
“I bet I know who said that”
Own the feedback - and be firm about why they need to be aware (i.e. the
impact it has) and that you expect change.
‘If they can argue with it – it’s poor feedback’
Principles of effective feedback
Timing and planning
Feed back as soon after the event as you can, but ensuring privacy if appropriate
(praise in public, reprimand in private).
When giving feedback based on a longer period e.g. in an appraisal situation,
the more recent the example, the more impact it will have.
Ensure the timing is appropriate for the individual to take on it board
(e.g. avoid times when they are under tight time pressures, or about to
start something for which they need total focus).
What condition are you in to give feedback right now - do any of the above
apply to you, or are you angry about the way they have handled something
and need time to cool off.
Consider your motives before giving feedback i.e. what do you want the
end result to be?
Be prepared for their reaction, and how you will respond.
These should be communicated in advance and only referred to as a reminder
If you are not certain the person is aware of the standard, check their
understanding of the expected standard before diving in with your feedback.
This might highlight a need for clarification, reinforcement or training.
If people are unaware of the standard, draw a line in the sand, but establish
this as the standard moving forward.
Ask questions at each stage rather than telling. Most people will
be able to identify for themselves how things have gone, especially if
they know the standards in advance.
Give feedback on successes as well as where things can be improved.
Be prepared to build the confidence of the shrinking violet, who finds
it hard to accept any praise. They may find it hard to see good in
anything they do, and only see their mistakes or what went badly.
Ask 'What were you pleased with, or what went well, or better than last
Focus on behaviour, not personality.
How likely is it that the person can do anything about it?
Could you be the source of the problem, not them?
Take ownership - don't rely on hearsay. People will be far more receptive
to what you have observed directly rather than subjective opinions from
If necessary draw comparisons between what people say and what they actually
Use pre determined standards or goals as a yardstick.
Reinforce how positive actions have helped performance.
Acknowledge people for what they are not just their accomplishments.
Explain or ask them which actions are less effective than they might be
Link the outcomes to something they care about (e.g. the amount of effort
required on their part, or how others perceive them), rather than simply
what is important to you
Check they understand the implications - if they don’t know how their actions
affect the business or the task they are unlikely to take on board any
When things have gone well you may not be looking for improvements from
the individual, but how can their good performance be emulated e.g. can
they show others how they do it?
Ask them to suggest a better, or alternative solution or methods.
Focus on what is missing, rather than what is wrong - this helps performance
Ensure the outcome you want is clear.
Check their understanding of what to do in future - if they have come up
with the solution check the method, time scales, etc.
Be direct, don’t sugar coat the message.
Give praise where it is due.
When it's not, make it clear that you need to see improvements or changes.
Avoid being side tracked by any of the feedback blockers.
Preserve the other person's self esteem.
Deliver bad news in a non-critical way.
Concentrate on your pitch and tone so that valuable information is not
seen as a complaint, criticism, whinge or nag.
Given in a constructive way feedback can not only improve performance but
can raise morale, build rapport and promote initiative. It also opens
the door for your team to provide you with some feedback too.
Cooper is a business coach with over 25 years experience in business and
management development, and founder of Zeal Coaching, specializing in working
with hospitality businesses, and is author of the 'Hotel
Success Handbook'. She is running a free tele seminar in October on
for Peak Performance ~ What it takes to get all of your team operating
to 100% of their potential"