What is feedback?

There are a lot of misconceptions and misinterpretations about feedback. Let’s have some clarity on this topic!

Feedback is a tool to improve people’s performance. Proper feedback describes the consequences of certain actions done by our colleagues. There is no positive or negative intention, it is only implied if these results were beneficiary or not: do we want the person to repeat his behaviour or change it in the future?

Saying things like “good job” is not feedback. Instead, pointing out the specific consequence of one’s action has a bigger effect on the subconscious. As a brief instruction to giving feedback, try catching someone doing something right and tell them the outcome of their actions. This has a significant effect on confidence and will act as an accelerant to performance. Think of feedback as a mirror, describing someone’s behavior without implying any opinion, judgment, or assumption.

The person receiving the feedback should draw conclusions for themselves. This way, they will feel it as their own.

A couple of years ago I led a small department abroad. The results were convincing, I thought I was doing everything right. Then I received one of the best feedback of my life. My boss did not tell me anything about how he perceived my actions. He told me the results my actions had on my team members: “Peter, you might not realize the results of your actions so allow me to provide feedback to you. Your ownership of the service you run decreases the confidence and the interest of people in the other location to work with you. Your communication shows true ownership, your clients can depend on what you do. At the same time, your own team members are less and less interested to participate in calls with you, initiating actions, or even taking ownership as part of the work they do together with you.

This feedback sank deep with me.

While I could see my actions described as he did, my intention was totally different. And I learned a couple of important lessons in one go: “in collaboration what matters is impact, not intent”, “your ownership can kill other people’s ownership” and “feedback can truly be a gift”.

There are many misconceptions about how feedback should be given:

  • Misconception #1 Appraisal / recognition equals feedback.

Appraisal and recognition are crucial in a healthy manager-employee work relationship, and they can serve as a motivating factor. However, they should not be confused with feedback, which is neutral and focuses on behavior.

  • Misconception #2 Aggressive communication will stick longer.

Some managers start their negative communication sessions with “I am giving you this feedback intentionally this way, so you’ll remember…” Then proceed to shout and act aggressively. People will always remember the shouting, but never the content. Thus, there will be no positive effect on their actions and behavior.

  • Misconception #3 Appraisal will make people become overly confident

If you want to develop your people, seeing them repeat what they do well, give them feedback. Objectively describing what you have observed in their behavior (as specifically as you can) and stating its positive effect will help them to know what to repeat in the future and builds trust in the relationship.

  • Misconception #4 The “sandwich” method will mitigate the negative effect of unpleasant feedback.

This method places negative remarks between positive ones to counterbalance the negative feedback. In our interpretation, feedback is objective and non-judgmental, thus if you have a “positive” or “negative” sign, we cannot talk about feedback at all. But even if you call them appraisal and criticism (and not feedback), negative remarks practically neutralize positive ones.

We have seen that feedback is crucial to organizational performance. If managers don’t understand the correct methods, feedback (or the lack of it) can be counterproductive and have negative effects.

How can the art of giving feedback be taught to all employees, regardless of position?

We know the answer.