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Top tips for remaining professional when you give or receive feedback
I don’t know many people that deal really well with feedback - positive or negative (in this instance I’m including compliments and praise as positive feedback and criticism as negative feedback). When I sit in my bi-annual appraisals, I have to constantly remind myself to listen to what’s being said, instead of concentrating on the way I’m physically reacting.
At PageGroup, we have an in-house learning and development team, who spend their time training staff to be the best they can be at their jobs, through courses such as presentation skills and communication styles. I asked one of the team, Sophie Sturmer, for her top tips on getting and giving feedback, which applies to professionals in any industry – and even outside of work. Here are her top tips…
As weird as it sounds, some people react far worse to receiving a compliment or praise than they do to receiving negative feedback. This is apparently particularly evident in women - on the whole, we are quicker to brush off a compliment, share credit for a task we have completed alone and apologise for feeling we are ‘in the way’ of something or someone.
Amy: How do you receive praise without seeming ungrateful or brushing it off?
Sophie: People often find this difficult as they get flustered or embarrassed by praise. The most un-complicated way of responding to praise is to simply say thank you. It’s quick, doesn’t require detail that can be difficult to think of when flustered, and demonstrates to the other party that you have taken what they have said on board.
Amy: What are your recommendations for people who have to give praise, i.e. someone who manages another person?
Sophie: We train our managerial staff to use what we call the ‘feedback grid’ whenever delivering positive or negative feedback. Imagine a cross shaped grid, with the X axis ranging from positive feedback to negative feedback, and then the Y axis ranging from general to specific. So feedback can be one of four options:
• Positive general – aka ‘praise’
• Positive specific
• Negative general
• Negative specific
It’s important to note that there is a difference between ‘praise’ and positive specific feedback. Praise simply tells someone in general terms that they have performed well. It doesn’t go into the specifics of where or how. We use it when we want to boost someone’s confidence, self-pride, to motivate etc. Conversely, positive specific feedback gives someone enough detail for them to know exactly where and how they performed well so they can easily replicate that action/behavior in the future.
There is absolutely a time and place for praise. The key is to think about your delivery – if they’ve done a good job, show you mean it with an upbeat tone, tempo, body language etc. They won’t believe you if you deliver your praise quietly or without meaning. The timing of praise delivery is also important. This depends on how well you know the other person – are they someone who would die of embarrassment if publicly praised? In which case you may risk a negative effect if you deliver your praise in a group situation. However, for others the impact of praise can be made even more positive when given publicly.
When criticism is constructive it can be extremely useful - it’s a powerful tool for self-improvement. But it must be delivered in a professional manner, must be true and must have some sort of actionable advice. It can be just as hard to give negative feedback as it is to receive it.
Amy: Are there ways of training yourself to deal with criticism and view it in a positive way?
Sophie: Receiving criticism in the way it is intended can be very tough, particularly if it hasn’t been delivered well. The key is to focus on what you personally can control. You can’t control how well the other person delivers criticism to you, so why allow yourself to get frustrated by it? Instead focus on what you can control, which is your reaction to the criticism. This is very much down to your mindset. If you are of the growth mindset mentality you tend to embrace criticism, taking it as an opportunity to learn and develop. So focus on the fact that this person is trying to help you to up-skill and become better at what you do. Those who ignore criticism, or take it as a personal attack tend to limit themselves and their ability to learn, which will only damage them in the long-term.
Amy: How can you deliver negative feedback in a constructive way, without being offensive?
Sophie: Referring back to our ‘feedback grid’ mentioned earlier, all feedback can be either general or specific. Hopefully you are delivering this negative feedback in an effort to help that person up-skill, and improve their abilities in a particular area. Therefore to enable them to do this and achieve a positive outcome from your feedback you need to be specific in the detail so they know exactly where they went wrong, and exactly what they need to do to improve. So, following a 5-step model, the process would be:
• What do you want to achieve from this feedback?
• What evidence can you use to make your feedback specific?
• When are you going to deliver this feedback to get the best reaction from the individual? (i.e. publicly or privately, in the moment or after the event).
2. SET THE SCENE – This is all about preparing the person to put them at ease and to take the sting out of the feedback
• Explain the situation
• Give specific examples
• Set/explain the objective of this feedback, so that you can assure them that you want to help them to achieve positive results
3. ASK – How he/she feels, views the situation, thinks about what you’ve had to say. It’s good to show that you value their opinion, giving them an opportunity to reflect.
4. TELL – How you feel, view the situation, think about what they’ve had to say. By asking and then telling it puts you on a more equal footing with each other, thereby removing hierarchical barriers.
• Discuss and agree on changes
• Agree on a SMART action plan that they can own
• Agree future review dates so you can help them carry through on their action plan.
Preparing for and presenting negative feedback in this way maximises your chances of getting a positive reaction from the individual, and therefore enables them to take action and improve.
I found Sophie’s advice massively helpful – hope you did too! Now you know how to deal with feedback in a professional manner, make sure you’re not undermining yourself at work and eliminate the need for any criticism on your character.