You’ve met up with a friend and catch up on the latest football game. An avid fan, your friend feels disappointed in a loss from the night before. Your friend brings up coaching, decision-making, field conditions, and more. What options do you have to address the concerns your friend raised?
As a mere fan, you can’t change much about the game— team management is beyond your control or influence. Thankfully, your friend isn’t really asking you to do anything about the team; listening to your friend is more than sufficient.
When it comes to our professional work, however, we often expect change when we voice an idea, concern, or complaint. When we expect someone to act on our message, we have transitioned into providing feedback.
Feedback occurs when you deliver a message with the intention of causing the recipient to act on your the message.
We provide feedback for a variety of reasons. If a service fails to meet your expectations, you may wish to voice your concern to a person with the capacity to effect change in the future. If a client, customer, or colleague acts in an unexpected and undesirable way, you want to let them know that there is a gap between your expectations and their actions. On the other side of the coin, when a person performs well, you may wish to reinforce the action by providing praise.
In all these situations, it is important to remember the limits of our power. The only control we have when providing feedback is the content of our message. We have no control over whether the recipient will act on the feedback—or if they do act, that they will act in alignment with our desired outcome.
Given the limits of our power, how can we improve the likelihood of feedback being useful to and implemented by the recipient? Below are four tips to improve your feedback.
1. Follow-Up With the Person
We receive feedback all the time from friends, family, coworkers, managers, employees, and even advertisers. With so much constant feedback asking you to do so many different things, it creates a noise of demand. How do you sort through the noise and find the signal of what’s most important to implement?
One way we sort through the noise is to identify trends in feedback. For example, in the Training Institute we collect evaluations at the end of every training and track the feedback in a database. From the database we can pull reports on feedback for a particular training, trainer, month, location, etc. This helps us identify trends in feedback to create clear action steps for improving our services.
When you provide the feedback, however, you may wish to cut through the noise beyond being a point of data in the trend. Following up with the recipient of the feedback is a great way to make your signal stronger. It demonstrates the value you place in the person and their outcomes while also increasing the odds your feedback will standout and be heard amongst the noise.
2. Keep the Feedback Current
People want to succeed and act in accordance with the expectations we put on ourselves. Feedback that praises success helps us feel validated and know we’re on the right track. Feedback providing guidance on how to improve our work can help us avoid failure, embarrassment, or letting down a valued colleague or customer.
Further, if we neglect to provide feedback when it’s relevant, the person may have made adjustments in the interim where your feedback is no longer applicable—for better or worse. No one likes it when a person drudges up the past. Feedback about a performance gap in the past can make current improvements feel invalidated.
While it is advisable to follow-up, it is also important to ensure your feedback is current and relevant.
3. Develop a Relationship of Mutual Respect
Successful delivery of feedback does not depend on absolute trust or friendship. To the contrary, to be in service to another requires boundaries that allow a person to increase their objectivity. This is not to say that feedback is best delivered by strangers, of course. An established, respectful relationship will increase the value your feedback will provide.
Think about advertising. If you’re in the waiting room for an appointment and you glance through a magazine left open on the table, the pages will flood you with feedback. You need a new car, planner, and pistachios. But what does the advertiser know of you personally to recommend these things? Now imagine that a friend or trusted colleague tells you to see a movie, read a book, or watch a show. You have a relationship and are more likely to take the recommendation to heart, as they know you better than the advertisers on Madison Avenue.
To that end, in delivering feedback, it’s recommended to know about the person or group you’re providing feedback. If you can provide context to your feedback in terms of their other work, initiatives, and ambitions you will be better received.
4. Be Clear in Your Expectations
The difference between feedback and a complaint or compliment is that you intend for the recipient to take guidance from the message for future actions. By and large, people want to meet these expectations. If a person does not have a clear understanding on what you expect, they may come short or go overboard in trying to meet the hazy standard. Before you provide feedback, be sure your expectations are clear in your own mind. It is unfair to hold a recipient of feedback to an expectation that was not clearly communicated.
None of these tips guarantee that you will achieve your end in providing feedback every person is capable of making their own choice and implementing your feedback into their work. Following these tips, however, will help bridge the gap between expressing your thoughts and having them heard.