Planning for feedback conversations
Feedback is important because it enables colleagues to develop action plans to become more effective in their work, and builds a culture of trust. In any circumstances, it’s key that the environment in which the feedback is given being safe and supportive. Assuming that we intend our feedback to have an impact on what colleagues say and do, we also need to be sure that it is appropriately challenging.
When you work remotely, you’ll need to work harder to build the right climate. When it’s more difficult to read body language and mood, how you frame a feedback conversation is crucial.
Allocating ‘quality time’ for conversations is a constant challenge, and even more so right now. Dealing with short-term problems can be all-consuming, and can extinguish the energy needed to invest in high-quality, engaged relationships.
Modelling good practice in giving and receiving feedback can be a powerful tool in the leader’s repertoire. If you demonstrate this in small yet significant ways, you can initiate change, and help to build a culture of trust and openness.
❝Modelling good practice in giving and receiving feedback can be a powerful tool in the leader’s repertoire.❞
For example, next time you are chairing an online meeting, choose a specific aspect of your behaviour on which you would like to invite feedback. This might be an observation about how you allocate time between items on the agenda, or the way in which you include (or exclude) particular people in discussion. Ask a trusted colleague to make notes on your specific behaviour, and on any examples they observe of the impact of your behaviour on other people. This will provide invaluable evidence, and may surprise you, since you will more likely have focused on the content of what you’ve said than on its effect on others.
You may find that your colleague asks you to return the favour, and provide some feedback on an aspect of their own behaviour or performance. If not, you may wish to offer this. This may lead to some raised expectations from others as to the frequency and quality of feedback you give on an ongoing basis.
While there may some initial discomfort when you begin to challenge established conventions, resist the temptation to feel that you “tried it once, and it didn’t work”. Persistence will lead to improved practice, and as people become accustomed to using the language of feedback, expectations (and performance) will increase.
Structuring how you give feedback
The model of Situation-Behaviour-Impact, developed by the Center for Creative Leadership (King and Santana, 2010), helps in providing feedback which is genuinely based on evidence, rather than on judgement of others’ personalities, appearance or other aspects which they can do little to change.
Following this model works by encouraging its users to develop skills in observation, recording evidence, and using this evidence to raise awareness – and encourage changes of behaviour – in others. It helps to avoid a natural tendency to make such comments as “I thought you were rather negative in that meeting”.
By establishing a very specific instance in a particular setting, and then citing a concrete example of the behaviour used by a given individual, this approach enables the other person to recall the cognitive and emotional state in which they found themselves. It also provides a backdrop for what you observed of the impact of the other person’s behaviour (often verbal, but sometimes a bodily gesture, facial expression or something connected to the tone or register of what they said) on either yourself or others involved in the situation.
❝This approach enables the other person to recall the cognitive and emotional state in which they found themselves.❞
The feedback which you give can lead to significant insight, and it can fuel the will to change behaviours and relationships.
Make a list of 4 or 5 colleagues who might benefit from your feedback.
For each colleague, think of three instances in the recent past (preferably the last couple of weeks, if possible) which were significant because there would have been better-quality outcomes if they had handled them differently. Then, for each example you have identified, note the exact behaviour you observed (this may include quoting some of the language you heard), and – most importantly – the impact it had.
How difficult was this task? It’s unlikely that you will readily bring examples to mind, unless you’re used to gathering evidence to use in feedback. You may find it tough to recall enough details of a situation in which you may have been deeply involved yourself. It does take practice – and is likely to be worth the effort, once you make a habit of it!
The next step is to make use of the evidence you have built up, by giving feedback to at least one of the people on your list by the end of this programme.
The first time you try using this, it may be helpful to choose a single example, and to relate this to a setting which you need to discuss in any case. This might be a particular project, task or relationship you’ve already agreed to talk about.
You may find that the person you are feeding back to is also willing to offer feedback to you, and you may wish to seek this first. This will build rapport, and help to smooth channels of communication. Please be prepared to share your experiences of how this has worked in our next online group discussion.
A selection to read, watch or listen to, to help find a new perspective.
Dr Paul Gentle
Paul is the Academic Director at Invisible Grail. A leadership expert, Paul has dedicated the last twelve years to creating and delivering leadership development programmes in higher education.