What Are the Best Types of Feedback? What Mistakes in Giving Feedback Should I Avoid?
Feedback is sort of a necessary evil. No one particularly likes to listen to what they’re doing wrong, and often the words are difficult or confusing to hear. And feedback isn’t especially easy to give, either. But as a leader or coach, it is your job to provide effective feedback. Constructive suggestions can help your direct reports and colleagues succeed.
So, how do you do it? Are you formulaic and by-the-book, or do you wing it? Is it time for straight talk or do you find yourself dancing around the issues? Do you take a clinical approach, or are you personally invested?
Whatever your style or your company’s system, chances are that performance reviews are less-than-satisfying events for you and your direct reports. But learning how to give effective feedback can make the difference between a meaningless (or disastrous) review and a constructive conversation.
Feedback is one of the most important elements of successful performance reviews because it engages the employee in the conversation and puts the spotlight on key issues. In fact, we believe giving effective feedback is the key to improving your talent development.
If you understand the 4 types of feedback, and which one is most effective to start with, giving feedback will feel easier, and your reviews will improve.
First, Understand the 4 Types of Feedback
Virtually all feedback can be classified in one of these 4 types:
- attribution, and
- Directive feedback tells someone what to do, even if you’re phrasing it “nicely.” For example, “I suggest that you make priorities clearer to your team.”
- Contingency feedback gives a future consequence: “If you keep interrupting people in meetings, they will stop cooperating with you.”
- Attribution feedback describes someone or their actions in terms of a quality or label, as in “You’re a good communicator” or “You’re undisciplined.”
- Impact feedback, on the other hand, informs the receiver about the effect their actions have had on other people or on the organization. Impact feedback is important in performance reviews because it can shed light on something your direct report never knew or thought about. It gets at “why” their behaviors are either working or not working. An example of impact feedback is: “Team members were confused, and I felt frustrated.”
It’s important to remember that you cannot control how someone feels about, or reacts to, feedback. Different people will perceive the same situation in different ways. You cannot “make” someone like or agree with what you’re saying, but you can increase the chances that your feedback will be well received and not rejected.
The recipient of feedback is more likely to take feedback well if it isn’t authoritative. If the feedback giver is perceived as leveraging positional power or as commanding, dominating, arrogant, or self-centered, the message will be lost. The recipient of the feedback is likely to be defensive or argumentative — or passively accept what you say, but resent the feedback and act in counterproductive ways later.
So, What’s the Best Type of Feedback?
Feedback can be uncomfortable to give, but with the right technique it can go more smoothly.
Impact feedback is the most effective type of feedback to start with because it informs a person about the results of their behavior without dissecting the details, assuming motivation, or placing blame.
Impact feedback isn’t authoritative — you aren’t telling a person what to do, setting forth consequences, or judging. Instead, impact feedback informs the receiver, empowers them, and increases the chance they will decide to accept the message.
Impact feedback is a great way to start a conversation and set the stage for more authoritative feedback if it’s needed, according to our guidebook, Feedback in Performance Reviews.
Once the feedback receiver realizes the impact of their behavior, they are more receptive to prescriptive aspects of authoritative forms of feedback.
When giving feedback, you can use our widely recognized SBI Feedback Model to clarify the Situation, describe the specific Behavior, and explain the Impact of that behavior. This is even more effective when Situation-Behavior-Impact is also used to explore intentions, making the feedback a two-way discussion.
You’ll be more effective in performance reviews — and in giving ongoing feedback — if you’re skilled at using all 4 types of feedback for the right times and for the right reasons.
The rest is just practice.
How to Customize Feedback to Avoid Resistance
It’s natural that people will react differently to information about their behavior and performance. Although you can’t force someone to agree with your feedback, it may help to consider changing the way you deliver the message. To customize your feedback:
- Consider the specific situation. Giving feedback to a new employee who is anxious about her first presentation is different than giving feedback to a confident, long-term employee who is eager for more visibility.
- Remember that people process information differently. Some people understand your message quickly, while others need time to absorb it. Some will want to focus on decisions, actions, and implications. Others will want to ponder and work out possible solutions on their own.
- Factor in your coachee’s health, personal, and family problems. Resistance to feedback or unexpected reactions may be connected to stresses and problems outside work. When you are aware of extenuating circumstances, you may adjust the timing and content of your feedback. But don’t assume you know what is going on; be prepared to handle the unexpected.
- Individualize your delivery – keep in mind your coachee’s strengths and weaknesses. For example, you may think a shoddy production report indicates disinterest or laziness. The coachee may agree the report was shoddy, but may be embarrassed to admit he doesn’t understand the new method of calculation. Give the feedback about the report, but allow the other person to offer his or her own reasons and possible solutions.
No need to psychoanalyze or judge the person. Just have a conversation, and avoid common mistakes that leaders often make when giving feedback.
Avoid These 10 Common Mistakes in Giving Feedback
Avoid these 10 common blunders when giving feedback to others, taken from our guidebook, Feedback That Works:
Mistake #1: The feedback judges individuals, not actions. Putting feedback in judgmental terms puts people on the defensive. And you’ve sent the message that you know what is right or wrong.
Mistake #2: The feedback is too vague. Steer clear of generalized, cliché catch phrases. If you want to really encourage someone to repeat productive behavior, you have to let them know what they did so they can keep doing it.
Mistake #3: The feedback speaks for others. Stick with the information that you know. Dragging a third party’s name into the mix only confuses the recipient, who then wonders why others are talking about them behind their back.
Mistake #4: Negative feedback gets sandwiched between positive messages. It may seem like a good idea to unburden the blow of negative comments with positive ones, but the recipient is smart enough to read between the lines, too.
Mistake #5: The feedback is exaggerated with generalities. Avoid those 2 little words: “always” and “never.” It puts people on the defensive, because there is usually that one time…
Mistake #6: The feedback psychoanalyzes the motives behind behavior. It could be a divorce, resentment over a co-worker’s advancement, or burnout, but whatever you think you know about someone’s intents and motives is probably dead wrong.
Mistake #7: The feedback goes on too long. Know when to stop. People need time to process the information they have received.
Mistake #8: The feedback contains an implied threat. Telling someone their job is in jeopardy doesn’t reinforce good behavior or illustrate bad behavior. It only creates animosity.
Mistake #9: The feedback uses inappropriate humor. You might use sarcasm as a substitute for feedback, especially if you are uncomfortable giving it in the first place. Keep the snide comments to yourself.
Mistake #10: The feedback is a question, not a statement. Phrasing feedback as a question is too indirect to be effective. And it may even be interpreted as sarcastic. Really?
Learning from your mistakes is important. Have you encountered any of these common mistakes during your career?
Ready to Take the Next Step?
To give your team more practice in giving feedback, and to learn more about the different types of feedback, explore our Feedback That Works Workshop Kit. We can help you strengthen the fabric of your organization by helping you build coaching skills and a feedback culture.