Don’t Fall into These 6 Common Traps of Giving Feedback

You will hear many different approaches on how best to give feedback as it is the one crucial skill at which every manager or leader must excel. While knowing the ways to formulate it effectively is important, it is equally vital to understand the common mistakes that managers make while delivering feedback. Organisational architectures have been revamped to support it, managers are supposed to provide it, and we are here to seek it out.

Feedback is a channel through which one can target their personal shortcomings, correct them, and enhance their performance as a result. It functions as a personalised GPS which points towards an ideal direction.

The point to note is that, even with full organisational support and noble intentions, managers, team leaders and senior staff find it challenging to provide impactful and actionable feedback. These skills do not come naturally and distributed workforce and time constraints may exacerbate the issue.

This article talks about the common pitfalls to avoid the unintended consequences.

Providing Cushion

To avoid over-criticism, project managers and leaders often use the cushion or sandwich technique in which they deliver their critique wrapped in positive comments. The idea behind this approach is to soften the blow and to maintain the receiver’s positive state of mind.

Best practice suggests that not only does it confuse the receiver’s mind, it also lessens the impact and effectiveness of the points you are trying to make. Moreover, it distracts the receiver from the intended problem that they are meant to resolve. In the worst case, the manager puts themsef at risk of being perceived as condescending and insincere.

Also, many employees wish to receive feedback that is clear and straight to the point. They are adult and capable enough to digest the truth. Sugarcoating feedback may give them the feeling of being treated as a child and disrespected.

Selecting the Wrong Type

The technique of giving feedback cannot be generalised, it is not a one-size-fits-all kind of activity. It requires having your own style based on how you are perceived by your team and on the counterpart’s mood and personality, as well as the impact you expect to generate. To make it impactful, managers and leaders must have a knack for picking up the right type of feedback based on different situations. The type depends on many factors such as person’s career stage, skill level and the intensity of the situation. For instance, if a receiver has less experience for the particular task, then he or she is more in need of positive feedback to boost morale. As their career progresses, they are more in need of constructive feedback to enhance performance and stay sharp.

Some feedback types are easier to deliver and receive than others. An important parameter is establishing how much the feedback will affect the self-worth of the recipient. Critique of an individual’s job, time management or work skills is usually easier to deliver.

When it comes to the individual’s knowledge, culture or attitude, we are already entering the private domain, and we should expect more resistance to an open-minded approach.

When it comes to aspects related to their inner self, such as their habits, personality characteristics or image, one should be very careful about giving a piece of feedback, even when it is positive, since it may easily bring out personal issues. If your goal is to obtain a change in those areas, you must always choose a long-term approach.

Missing Specificity

At times, employees feel frustrated by the feedback given by their supervisors due to lack of clarity. Feedback must be focused on pointing out specific areas where improvements are needed the most. Many times managers use unclear phrases such as: “I want you to be more proactive,” or “The organisation wants more commitment from you.” For a receiver, such phrases are not adequate to provide specificity on what he or she is supposed to do to create a solution.

To clearly describe the situation and how you expect them to behave, first, it must be all clear in your own mind!

With all types of feedback, it should include concrete examples to define expected behaviour changes and performance expectations clearly. The more recent and relevant the example is, the more specificity and clarity it delivers. In the case of a broader issue, one can use multiple examples to provide the desired specificity.

Over-Reliance on the Type of Feedback

Based on their personality characteristics, managers find suitable to pick a particular kind of feedback and deliver it over and over again. Over time, such managers develop an over-reliance on their favourite kind of feedback. However, one must know that too much negative or positive feedback can be a bad thing. Experts believe that excessive amount of positive feedback can turn out to be praise overload and can defeat its purpose. Smart managers must create an optimal balance between positive and negative feedback.

Lack of Preparation and Focus

Carefully prepare your feedback. The more delicate and important the subject is, the more preparation it requires. Know the facts and make sure that you know which direction you want the feedback session to go.

A good approach is to define some keywords or catchphrases to use during the session. Focus on the main topic of the feedback. Don’t let the conversation to go to other, unwanted, direction. Be ready to stop any irrelevant discussion, especially if it involves absent people.

Always remember – you are in charge of the conversation.

Wrong Setting

The surrounding location and situation have a huge effect, especially while giving negative feedback. A musical instrument requires the ideal setting for the tunes to be played in a pleasing way. Giving feedback is quite similar in that way – picking the wrong setting can spoil the purpose and produce catastrophic outcomes. After all, there is a reason why “praise in public, criticise in private” still works like a charm. Criticising in a common environment can lead to stress and embarrassment.

In short, the worst mistake you could make is to act on instinct, be unprepared or even worse, lose your temper. The old assumption that boss who yells at workers will obtain more results from them is obsolete and has been proven to be ineffective on all levels. We must use communication techniques to maximise the effectiveness of our communication and try to concentrate only on generating personal growth and skills development.

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