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posted on Nov 13, 2019
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By Maria Lahiffe

Most of us would rather have a root canal than give or receive feedback at work.

It’s not surprising, since when feedback is given poorly, it can be insulting [1] [2] and confusing [3], resulting in a demoralized team [4] and diminished performance [5].

It is also one of the important things you can do for the people who work with you. Done well, feedback can foster learning [2], help people thrive and excel [2], and boost engagement [3].

Let’s look at how to give feedback well.

Be Specific

Focus in on specific behaviours instead of vague generalities. Offer data and examples as much as possible. Here are some examples [6] [7]:

  • Not useful: You are such a superstar. I never have to worry when you’re on the case!
  • Useful: I appreciate that you took the time to organize the data into multiple views. That made it so easy to analyze.
  • Not useful: Your presentation was very confusing. I need you to write it better.
  • Useful: Your presentation could be clearer. Please add concrete data to prove your point, and try using bullet lists to make things easier to read.

As you can see from the examples, the specific feedback was actionable. The people receiving the feedback know exactly want to change, and what to keep on doing the same.

Focus on the Positive

Research shows that team members react up to six times more strongly to negative comments than positive ones. [3] This means that you need to ensure that you have at least 6 positive interactions with someone before you even think about pointing out a way in which they need to improve.

Focusing on the positive also means couching feedback in positive, actionable terms instead of negative. For example [7]:

  • Not useful: You seem to lack initiative.
  • Useful: I think you have some really great ideas on how we could improve our procedures, and I would really love to see you bring more of them to the table.

Do not sandwich your feedback

Some people advise giving a “feedback sandwich”: say something positive, something negative, then finish with something positive. Numerous studies have shown that this is ineffective. [8] Here are a few reasons why:

  • The positive feedback distorts the message about how the person needs to improve
  • “Sandwiches” are generally vague and not actionable
  • The feedback for improvement distorts the message about what the team member is doing well. This is especially distorted because the human brain has a “negativity bias,” which means we retain negative information far better than positive memories. [9]

Give feedback regularly

Don’t wait to give feedback. People need to know right away what they are doing right or how they need to do something differently.

An exception:

The exception to this rule is if something has upset you. Always, always give feedback when you are in the headspace to be fair, objective, and kind. If you are not in that headspace, take a walk, do a short meditation, or whatever you need to do to calm down.

Listen

As important as it is to prepare your thoughts before any review meeting, it is critical to let your team member speak first. This will give you a sense of how they perceive their performance, which will help you know the best way to phrase your feedback, to make it useful.

Also, when you have established what it is that the person needs to improve on, take the time to ask what you *both* can do to facilitate that improvement. The person may need clearer direction from you, or perhaps they are making mistakes because the lighting is too dim or because they are in a noisy place with too many distractions. Your team member is the best qualified to tell you how they work best.

Place matters

Generally speaking, it is fine to share positive feedback anywhere, including in front of other people. Keep in mind, though, that singling one person out for praise in front of peers can have an effect on team morale; additionally, not everyone likes being called out publicly, even in a nice way.

If you need to highlight something the person needs to improve upon, or if there is any chance the conversation could go that way, then it has to happen in private.

What's next?

Effective feedback is an essential part of volunteer management. To learn more, come to an upcoming workshop

Click here to register Wednesday, February, 19. 2020. 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

Volunteer Ottawa offers a comprehensive suite of courses related to all aspects of running a non-profit or a charity. Click here for our event calendar. Subscribe to our Event RSS Feed to be among the first to know when a new workshop is added to the schedule.

Like what you've read? Subscribe to our RSS feed so you never miss a post! We have a general RSS Feed for all VOices blog posts, as well as a Volunteer Management RSS Feed, which will focus on topics related to volunteer management.

Related blog posts:

[1] N. Andriotis, "The Mistakes You're Making with Offering Feedback," Efront, 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.efrontlearning.com/blog/2018/08/mistakes-challenges-of-giving-feedback.html. [Accessed 13 November 2019]. [2] C. Chappelow and C. McCauley, "What Good Feedback Really Looks Like," Harvard Business Review, 13 May 2019. [Online]. [Accessed 13 November 2019]. [3] "10 ways to give constructive feedback to your employees," Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), [Online]. Available: https://www.bdc.ca/en/articles-tools/employees/manage/pages/performance-management-how-give-feedback.aspx. [Accessed 13 November 2019]. [4] Mind Tools Content Team, "Giving Feedback: Boosting your People's Confidence and Ability," Mind Tools, [Online]. Available: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMM_98.htm. [Accessed 13 November 2019]. [5] T. Chamorro-Premuzic, "Is How you Deliver Feedback Doing More Harm than Good?," Harvard Business Review, 10 August 2015. [Online]. Available: https://hbr.org/2015/08/is-how-you-deliver-feedback-doing-more-harm-than-good. [Accessed 13 November 2019]. [6] "What Do I Say? Examples of Good and Bad Feedback," Betterworks, [Online]. Available: https://www.betterworks.com/articles/say-examples-good-bad-feedback/. [Accessed 13 November 2019]. [7] L. Cain, "How To Give Effective Performance Feedback: Frameworks and Best Practices," OpenView Venture Partners, 14 January 2019. [Online]. Available: https://openviewpartners.com/blog/how-to-give-effective-performance-feedback-frameworks-and-best-practices/. [Accessed 13 November 2019]. [8] S. M. Heathfield, "Why the Employee Feedback Sandwich Tactic Doesn't Work," The Balance Careers, 25 June 2019. [Online]. Available: https://www.thebalancecareers.com/ban-the-feedback-sandwich-for-employee-feedback-1918465. [Accessed 13 November 2019]. [9] K. Cherry, "What is the Negativity Bias?," Very Well Mind, 26 July 2019. [Online]. Available: https://www.verywellmind.com/negative-bias-4589618. [Accessed 13 November 2019].
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