7 ways to elicit better workplace feedback

Most companies have a serious deficit of unvarnished truth. Here’s how to improve your discourse, build trust, and create healthier expectations among employees.

Creating better workplace feedback

No one likes to be criticized, and most people shy away from anything resembling conflict.

But with the right approach, in an environment where everyone’s focus is on improving performance, raw feedback is a powerful tool. 

Here are seven ways to succeed with workplace feedback:

1. Teach your team the real purpose of feedback.

Feedback discussions are business discussions where the individuals involved strive to identify behaviors that contribute to or detract from high performance. The focus must be on connecting behaviors to performance outcomes and then discussing how this behavior can be strengthened in the future. That’s it. 

2. Work to create a healthy feedback environment with your team.

Communicators should strive to create a workplace where quality, performance and business-focused feedback are part of the culture’s DNA. Single out the need and responsibility for feedback as a core value on your team, and strive to teach and model the behaviors essential for bringing the words to life. Bake the need for feedback into team values. 

3. Teach your team to give you meaningful feedback.

Nothing says feedback is important like modeling the behavior and setting the standard for encouraging feedback on your performance. Your response to feedback sets the tone for everyone else in your group. 

To prime the feedback pump, ask these questions constantly:

  • What’s working?
  • What’s not?
  • What do you need me to do to help you succeed?

Of course, you reinforce the value of feedback when individuals gin up the courage to give it to you, and you choose your response. Getting defensive or arguing will guarantee the feedback spigot is turned off permanently.  

4. Ask questions about feedback you don’t understand.

Remember to mine for performance-improving gold in these feedback sessions. Accept that individuals may be fearful of giving you feedback, so work hard to put them at ease. Cultivate the attitude that there must be a silver lining somewhere, and ask thoughtful—not defensive—questions in search of clarification. Put the giver at ease and listen intently. Then thank the giver for sharing this with you.

5. Design feedback discussions for success.

Approach feedback discussions as a design exercise. Make sure the key ingredients of behavior and business impact are present. Know your direction for the discussion. Plan your opening sentence with care. And remind yourself that your goal is to promote a dialogue. With proper design, even seemingly tough feedback discussions are less threatening for all parties. 

6. Conduct feedback discussions with care and empathy.

Our instinct with the most challenging discussions is to race through them and escape. As a result, we come off as critical and unfeeling. That’s wrong. Instead, slow down and take into account the person’s reality on the other side of the feedback discussion. Clarity, respect and empathy are vital components of authentic, effective, constructive feedback delivery.

7. Let go of the past, and shift the focus to the future.

Remember, the focus of feedback is on strengthening performance in the future. I checked, and no one has a time machine to return to the past. Guide the discussion to focus on what the right approach will be in future settings. 

Art Petty is a leadership coach and author. Read more on his blog.

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