Be it after a presentation or when a project is complete, during an annual review or in a team meeting, feedback plays a major role in the culture of your company. Feedback from colleagues, recruiters or managers on conduct and performance assists in the betterment of every employee. The company benefits, too, as it refines goals and fosters a healthy work environment. Occasionally, feedback can elicit aggravation or frustration—negatively affecting the company’s culture of feedback. With the following article, we aim to explain why it is essential for staff members and managers alike to familiarize themselves with various methods of feedback, while also providing inspiration for how a culture of feedback can take root.
When a small child touches a hot stove top, nerve cells in their fingers transmit painful stimuli to the brain’s receptors. The brain then responds by sending an impulse to the muscles in their arms, hands and fingers telling them to move their hand. This is an elementary example of physical feedback. Children learn from painful experiences and adjust their conduct accordingly.
In the professional world, too, learning experiences and changes to conduct are essential. For it to work effectively, it is important for feedback to take place on work methods, social conduct and performance. Feedback has two sides: a feedback provider and a feedback recipient. As feedback entails both positive and negative elements, it is a delicate situation. Similar to the example of the child and the stove top, office feedback can elicit responses in the recipient that are painful, aggravating or frustrating. In professional life, the negative fallout from feedback is no rare occurrence—especially if the feedback is phrased as a hurtful critique or is subjectively perceived as such.
Destructive feedback stifles personal development and can strain relations between colleagues or managers. In extreme cases, the entire office climate suffers, which, in turn, could have serious consequences for business performance. This is why it is so important for managers and recruiters to actively cultivate a culture of constructive feedback. But which methods are suitable?
To avoid aggravation, frustration or misunderstandings in feedback situations, the discussion must be prepared and structured in great detail. To achieve this goal, there are several methods available that we would like to present to you.
This method is ideal when quick feedback is desired to a relatively clearly defined issue, e.g. customer surveys on a specific product or a specific service. Online surveys can even be ideal for internal situations, to provide a first impression of how staff members or departments react to a certain matter. If management has implemented a reward system for certain achievements, surveys can show if staff members respond to the change. The pro of this method of feedback is that it does not entail much effort and if the questions can be answered anonymously, a genuine first impression can be received. However, the limited amount of questions restricts the use and meaning of such surveys.
This method of feedback is one of the most important and well-known tools for staff development. Its goal is a comprehensive, multi-faceted and objective opinion of management and leadership capabilities by employees. Staff members assess themselves, but also receive input—anonymously via a questionnaire as well as in direct dialogue—from colleagues, staff members, managers, team members and, sometimes, customers.
It determines in a differentiated manner how well a skilled worker or manager fulfills defined competencies and which aspects need to be improved. Managers, recruiters and staff members could use the results to participate in training exercises or to refer to them in salary negotiations. Thanks to the anonymous nature of questionnaires, this method provides objective analysis of performance and aptitude for specific tasks.
However, critics see the anonymous nature as problematic. For example, if two colleagues respond negatively to the topic of “trust” in their manager, there is presumably a problem. If, however, the colleague assessed cannot recall a specific instance, then it will be difficult for this manager to address the cause.
The feedback sandwich or feedback burger is recommended when critical feedback is involved. The negative “ingredient” is surrounded by two positive layers. The feedback provider should give the feedback recipient positive feedback at first and then address the critical aspect, before the talk is concluded with another positive aspect. The sequence is praise – criticism – praise. This way, negative aspects are not overemphasized. This makes it easier for the feedback recipient to take the objective criticism well and to make use of it.
However, this method also has problems. If the sequence is worked through mechanically, the praise at the end is no longer that—or at least is not received as such by the recipient. Furthermore, the feedback provider in this method runs the risk of drawing out the discussion with the recipient so they become unnecessarily unsettled. In addition, if the discussion takes too long to get to the point, stress levels in the feedback provider rise as well, as phrasing negative feedback is not easy.
Each of the methods presented has pros and cons. Regardless of how you structure the feedback, there are fundamental rules for giving constructive feedback.
The most important rule for the feedback recipient is: listen and absorb. Resist the impulse to defend yourself or apologize. Calmly listen to what the provider is saying, absorb it and think about it. You may ask questions about it or describe your impression. But it is generally advisable to explain your position at another time.
Constructive feedback is essential in any kind of relationship, but especially so at the workplace. Without direct feedback, people will not be able to prepare for future challenges. Managers, too, would be wise to ask employees for their feedback. A positive, open culture of feedback increases motivation, makes the workplace more enjoyable and has a positive effect on the success of the business. One thing that all studies have shown is that people are praised far too seldom. What would happen if you started telling your colleagues once a day, what you thought they did well? Give it a try and find out!