My first experience giving corrective feedback did not end well. It was just two days after a course where I’d been shown the five step process for giving feedback, and told that giving feedback quickly was important. I was on the second floor of the plant, and I watched in disbelief as an operator backed his truck straight into a handrail (bending and destroying it), got out to see what had happened, and then simply drove off.
I was not happy. Angry I think would be a good way to describe my feelings. We’d been having numerous equipment damage incidents at the mine, and had made a big effort of communicating that these weren’t acceptable.
I decided it was time to put my feedback training into action and deliver some quick, direct and specific feedback to the truck driver. I was clear on the behaviour I’d witnessed, I was certainly clear on the emotional impact on me, and could describe what his behaviours resulted in for the company and for safety. It seemed I had every box in the feedback model ticked.
But it all went very badly. Sure, I asked permission to give the feedback, explained the behaviour I’d witnessed, and talked about the outcomes. But the response I got was argumentative, angry and defensive all in one. We both left the conversation disagreeing with one another, more worked up than when we’d started, and without any productive outcomes.
Why? Because I’d gone in angry. The person I was giving feedback to could sense that, and instinctively knew I wasn’t giving him feedback to help him improve himself or do better in the future. I was giving him feedback because I was annoyed and wanted to get it off my chest.
The fundamental thing I had forgotten is that feedback should always be about the future, and always be about helping the other person improve. It should never be about making you feel better.
Pre-Start Check your Feedback
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve introduced Mining Man’s simple models for giving positive feedback, and for giving negative or corrective feedback. We’ve deliberately kept these models simple and easy to use, as the key to helping people change through feedback is to give it out a lot, and give it quickly.
The aim of feedback is to help people around us improve themselves and become better at their jobs. But when we give feedback in the wrong way, or for the wrong reasons, it can have the reverse effect – offending the person, making them defensive, or simply discouraging them from better performance.
We need to ask ourselves three quick questions before giving feedback to make sure we are giving that feedback for the right reasons and with the right purpose in mind.
1. Am I angry?
Never give feedback when you are angry, you will not be able to hide it. No matter how calm you think you’ve made yourself look, subtle body signals will tell the other person loud and clear that you are angry. When they sense you are angry they will close up and become defensive. Once this happens your feedback is useless – they will not be listening for ways to improve or do things differently in the future, they will simply be preparing for your anger.
It's perfectly ok to be angry at a situation, just don't give feedback when you are. Delay or defer the feedback until later.
2. Do I want to punish?
Feedback is always about the future, and what you’d like the person to do or keep doing in the future. Feedback is not a tool for enforcing rules. Neither is feedback ever about punishment.
If your aim is to punish a person for something they’ve done, or remind them of something they should have already known, you do that through a different type of discussion.
Feedback (the way we use it in our models) is reserved solely for discussing a person’s behaviours going forward. To use feedback models for punishment erodes the value of the process.
3. Can I let it go?
If you can’t let it go, don’t give feedback. A feeling of not being able to let something go probably indicates you are angry or at least emotionally involved in the behaviour you have observed. If you feel you wouldn’t be able to let it go, then you are likely to rush in to the feedback unprepared and with the wrong motives.
Don't be in a hurry to give feedback. You desire to rush in is probably more about how you feel than about helping the other person. Feedback should always be about helping the other person, not getting something off your chest.
Delay or Defer
Ask yourself the three questions above when you feel the need to give feedback. If you don't pass even one of these, delay or defer the feedback. Don’t forget about it all together, just take some time out and come back to it when you are clear on your reasons. This could be a few minutes later or even the next day.
Remember, feedback should be short, direct and frequent. Delivering feedback quickly is better than delaying until a later time, but being quick is not the most important thing. The most important thing is doing it for the right reason.
Click the links below to recap our simple feedback models, and have a productive week!
Four Steps for Giving Positive Feedback
Five Steps for Giving Negative (Corrective) Feedback
- Jamie Ross
Mining Man - Practical Safety, Leadership and Productivity Ideas for the Mining Industry
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