This article provides a practical explanation of Feedback Methods. After reading, you’ll understand the basics of this simple yet powerful tool for communication and personal development.
What are Feedback Methods?
Feedback Methods are ways for giving and receiving feedback. The word feedback is used to describe useful information or (constructive) criticism regarding a person’s actions and behaviours. Feedback is communicated to another person, another group, who can use the information to adjust – and if necessary improve – future actions, performance, and behaviour.
Feedback occurs when an environment responds to an action or specific behaviour. In business, feedback is essential for good performance. Consumer feedback, for instance, is a guide for the development or updating of products and services. Employee performance feedback is often what guides performance interviews. In performance interviews, the exchange of information about performance includes both expected performance and delivered performance.
Many professionals agree that feedback is a good and educational practice. Almost anyone can significantly benefit from feedback. Whether it applies to an individual, a group, a company, a department, or an organisation; everyone can make better decisions when they have more information. It enables employees to build communication with others and maintain relationships.
However, there are a number of researchers and scientists in psychology who claim that feedback methods are rarely constructive and almost never have the desired effect. This article will discuss different arguments for and against giving feedback at work.
Feedback is everywhere
Effective feedback, both negative and positive, is very useful and ever-present. Feedback is a valuable basis for important decisions and is used by successful companies because these companies consistently look for ways to improve. These companies listen to feedback from all directions. Ranging from feedback from customers, employees, suppliers, to the feedback of stakeholders alike shareholders, government bodies, and public opinion. The best-performing companies aren’t just good at accepting and processing feedback; they deliberately ask for it.
Feedback methods can be found everywhere in the organisation. For instance, it is used in employee surveys, performance review, training evaluations, etc. Every time a manager talks to a person, employee, sales assistant, or customer, feedback is being communicated. It’s basically impossible not to give feedback.
With customer feedback methods, information comes straight from the customer regarding how satisfied or dissatisfied they are about their experience with a service or product. Remarks, complaints as well as questions are part of customer feedback. They’re an important source for the company to better align their products and services with customer desires and needs. This customer feedback is gathered in different ways. For instance, there are written and verbal surveys, online feedback forms, letters, phone calls, or emails from the customer to the company.
Customer feedback is important to future developments within the company, improving customer experience, and general customer satisfaction. Companies conduct different analyses to gain insight into what has to be changed or improved to keep customer loyalty high and reduce the number of support actions.
The value of customer feedback from different sources
The likelihood that all forms and sources of feedback get the same level of attention is rather small. It’s more likely that the feedback of loyal friends and customers is considered the most valuable. The opinions of people we trust are valued the most. The opinion of a stranger on the bus is immediately dismissed. It’s the same in business when it comes to customer feedback. In a business environment, the relationship the customer has with a company has a lot of influence on the weight that’s given to their feedback. Loyal customers that have been ordering from an organisation for a long time have a lot of experience with its products and services, making their feedback uniquely valuable.
The value of the feedback from new customers is also important to consider, however, as it can be just as valuable. They likely have a lot of insightful feedback and often expose practical implications of a product or service.
Feedback from customers who spend a lot more money on products and services is also more likely to be heard and processed.
What is feedback in the workplace?
Feedback is an important tool for management to encourage desired behaviour among employees and to promote learning, which can lead to better performance. Feedback therefore offers an opportunity for personal and professional development.
The option to provide feedback shouldn’t be limited to the manager. Employees among themselves can also benefit from good and constructive feedback. Company results should be the starting point when giving feedback. This helps develop talent, improve sales figures and service, and make the organisation more effective on the whole.
Consistency in feedback
Feedback methods work best when they are a continuous process, rather than a once or twice-yearly formal session. Experts agree that an annual performance review of employees is the worst way to surprise employees with negative feedback. It makes employees nervous, but the manger can also dislike the prospect of offering negative feedback. Nervousness is not conducive to an effective feedback session.
That’s why you should regularly practice giving and receiving feedback, not just once a year. After a number of instances, the giving and receiving of feedback becomes a habit, and people no longer have to feel nervous. If it’s necessary to give negative feedback to an employee, do it within 24 hours.
Although it’s important that feedback is given regularly, it’s also important that someone is in the right state of mind to receive feedback. Build a sense of self-awareness about the topic of the feedback. You can do so like this:
- ‘I’d like to offer you some feedback. Is this a good time?’
- ‘Do you have a minute to update me on activity X or event Y?’
- ‘Can we do a debrief about project X?’
- ‘I don’t like saying this to you, but…’
That last opener is a way to start a feedback session in an extreme or challenging situation. In that case it’s good to give someone a heads up that you’ll be giving them important feedback. It’s also an acknowledgement of nervousness that shows that you want to talk about something, but it’s not your intention to make the other person feel bad.
How should I offer feedback to employees?
Before a feedback session, find concrete data or information to support the feedback. The goal is to gather evidence that can be used to describe and explain the following points:
1. Specific behaviour
Be specific about what a person has or has not done, without judging the behaviour or their intentions. It might be the case that employees aren’t aware that what they do has consequences. Never start with sentences like, ‘You’re always doing this.’ or ‘You’re never doing that.’ It’s better to use words like, “Yesterday I noticed…’ or ‘Some people pointed out tome today that…’
2. Impact of behaviour
After identifying a type of behaviour, it’s important that the person is told how their behaviour affects the team, the company, or co-workers. This can be both positive and negative.
3. What can be done differently
Colleagues and employees can’t read the mind of the person providing them with feedback. Be clear and reasonable about what has to change in order to remove the negative impact of certain behaviour.
There are different methods and theories on effective ways of providing feedback. Read about the 360-degree method here.
Tips when offering feedback or criticism
Don’t automatically assume you’re right
Even after gathering information and evidence, the person offering the feedback doesn’t always have the full picture. Others may perceive the person’s behaviour differently. On top of that, the employees should be given a chance to tell their side of the story. In the case of negative feedback, it’s almost never entirely about the facts; there are often feelings involved. The topic is often a conflicting idea or an emotion. Reasonable people can have different opinions and ideas on matters.
Be a change catalyst
Managers and employees are often nervous or afraid to apply feedback methods. Once the feedback has been given, they feel the topic is done. However, there’s a big difference between understanding and change. The ability of people to make a big change in behaviour or performance requires constant support. Therefore it’s important to follow up on feedback sessions. During the feedback sessions, always ask the employee: ‘What steps can you take to achieve this?’ or ‘How can I support you with this?’ Plan a regular follow-up session.
What are the pros of feedback?
A study by Harvard Business Review (HBR) shows that 57% of employees prefers constructive feedback methods over praise and compliments. This suggests that most employees want to know what to do to improve. The pros of constructive feedback are:
Improved performance and encouraging personal and professional growth
Most employees want to perform well and show progress. By offering them constructive feedback, they are helped with this progress. They notice that the organisation and their co-workers value development.
The expectations regarding workers become cleared by giving constructive feedback. When there is a culture of fear in a company where feedback isn’t appreciated, employees have no way of knowing if they are performing well.
Improved professional relationships
Giving constructive feedback can reduce tensions between team members, provided it’s done in the right way. When a team member has interpersonal problems and this is explained and resolved, team relationships will improve a lot.
When feedback methods aren’t effective
The following matters are important to be taken into consideration when giving feedback:
The way in which feedback is provided is highly important for its effects and results. Harsh and disrespectful criticism doesn’t help people thrive, excel, or improve. Effective criticism has to be delivered with some care and respect. Frequent or purely negative comments invoke defensive responses. These responses hamper motivation and the willingness of employees to adapt and improve.
Telling someone how they have to deal with a personal problem is often the wrong approach. Learning, reflection, and development are mainly stimulated by asking the right reflective questions to help people reach insights themselves.
Now it’s your turn
What do you think? Are you familiar with the explanation of feedback methods in business? Does your workplace employ frequent feedback moments for development and improvement? Do you find it difficult to give or receive feedback? Do you have any tips or comments about offering feedback?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Aguinis, H., Gottfredson, R. K., & Joo, H. (2012). Delivering effective performance feedback: The strengths-based approach. Business Horizons, 55(2), 105-111.
- London, M. (2003). Job feedback: Giving, seeking, and using feedback for performance improvement. Psychology Press.
- Sparr, J. L., & Sonnentag, S. (2008). Fairness perceptions of supervisor feedback, LMX, and employee well-being at work. European journal of work and organizational psychology, 17(2), 198-225.
- Steelman, L. A., & Rutkowski, K. A. (2004). Moderators of employee reactions to negative feedback. Journal of Managerial Psychology.
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