How often do you receive feedback from your colleagues at work? Friends? Wives or husbands? Subordinates? Is this feedback usually positive or negative? Is it provided in detail? How do you react on feedback – do you usually get nervous and defensive? Do you get uncomfortable about the pure fact that someone dared to tell you what they really think? Do you take it personal? Do you even care? What do you do about it? … I have always wanted to find answers to all these questions to be able to understand how others deal with them. In my case, I found some answers with my own experience. And this is the reason why I decided to write this article and share with you, dear Reader.
Once, I was managing one of my IT projects. The team, which I was managing, drastically grew from 4 direct subordinates to 30 (project managers, as well as technical people). It was new experience for me. What was especially new, was the fact that I started to receive feedback to my management style, decisions, communication and I have learned how to deal with it. Secondly, I had to learn how to give feedback to others about the job I delegated to them and results I expected them to deliver.
I must admit that when you first read or hear about such type of challenges, it does not always seem complicated, but once you dig deeper and “go live” with such an experience – you might be surprised to discover that this is far from being an easy task and cooperation with people is one of the biggest challenges. People – are the most crucial and valuable “asset” in the company. Thanks to them you actually get things done and go ahead in whatever project or business you are doing. The ability to manage them wisely and effectively will actually determine the success of your project and business as a whole.
There are a couple of things which I experienced and would like to share here. Let’s start.
1. The First Rule of Feedback – learn how to give feedback
This is something I actually learned from theory. One of the best practices to give feedback to others is to base it on facts. Saying that you simply did not like something or that “it could have been done better/in different way” frustrates more than you can imagine. The best way to give someone feedback is to:
- Gather facts – what has been done well or not well. I will give you an actual example. My project manager neither delivered nor followed up on the task I assigned to him. We both agreed that he will complete it on time. But, when the time came, there was no expected result delivered, moreover, there was no information of delay in advance to mitigate the consequences. I approached the project manager personally and said that it was agreed that on that date he will deliver specific deliverable and that this did not happen. That is a simple fact.
- Tell how you personally feel about it. I told the project manager that because of that, I felt like I could not count on him and that this situation made me feel really sad and frustrated actually.
- Tell the person what the consequences of such actions in the future will be if this happens again. I told the project manager that I would be forced to track his activities closely and on more regular basis. Which means that I will need to set up frequent follow ups and track the progress on the activity assigned, to ensure that it is delivered on time.
As the result, the employee was really touched by this openness and promised to avoid situations like that and was sitting overnight to complete what was agreed and promised.
As practice showed, people are actually listening to such feedback and do their best to implement a solution to the situation. I personally even tend to believe that such “concrete feedback” actually is one of the most valuable feedback as it gives a person an example / examples of an actual situation and gives an opportunity to become better.
Bear in mind, that this was an example of a win-win situation resolution at the end. There are situations, when people need improvement in their work, need to be coached and you need to enforce the consequences which you promised.
We don’t need of course to talk only about negative feedback; the same approach can be used for positive feedback. If you tell the person what was done well – and give each time example for it – the person can enhance and embrace it in the future.
If you manage people, it is absolutely necessary to give your employees feedback. They shall know what they do well and where they have areas for improvement. By this approach – you grow your employees. Isn’t it one of the major objectives of any manager?
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Additional tip – mentor your employees and colleagues
Is it enough to give feedback and only feedback? Are you sure your employees can figure out themselves how to improve or enhance the situation? I would not be so sure. I had a situation that I gave feedback to one of my team members and the person acknowledged that, but there was afterwards the repetitive situation similar to that which occurred, and I continued to discover gaps in understanding and communication. Honestly spoken, I take deep care of my team members and I can’t sleep at night if I know that I have an unresolved situation and my team needs help. So, I came up with an idea. Why not to mentor my subordinates? I do not only give feedback, but I also suggest what could be done about the situation. Imagine how awesome it could be once common ground is found and you actually see real improvements afterwards?
So, lessons learned for you – don’t just give feedback, mentor your team members as well. This is your investment into better future, better team work and trust!
2. The Second Rule of Feedback – learn how to receive feedback from others
If you are a boss, are you ever too prideful to even consider for a moment that there is something you can actually do better?
Never be too bossy to actually talk to your team members and ask them for their opinion, areas for improvement. I have noticed that many people are actually afraid to give feedback to their bosses or supervisors. Questions is – why not?
I had the same “default” attitude myself. I never gave feedback to my superior and considered it “inappropriate” or as a kind of “teaching approach”. But in one of my projects there was a very brave woman, who actually came to me and said: “please don’t take it personally, I do not mean to criticise you, but I have noticed a few things which you and the team could improve”. I must admit that when I heard those words, I had an itchy feeling in my stomach…seriously… The first reaction was defensive, because, unfortunately, it is an inborn human character feature. But then I stopped myself for a moment and change the direction of my thoughts. I thought that it is actually the best thing which can ever happen to me – to get a feedback from a knowledgeable person and actually consider it for improvement.
I, of course, understand that I (and you too, dear Reader) have to filter every feedback I get in accordance to its relevance, importance and actual relativity. You need analyse it first and then think objectively what to do about it: what to omit and what to enhance.
Feedback to yourself, especially negative, can be one of the most valuable things you can get from other people. Believe me, nobody likes to hear negative things. Everybody wants to hear compliments, receive great feedback and hear how nice they are. But think for a while – does it actually make you better? What actually makes the most valuable impact on your life is knowing your “weaknesses”, getting that feedback from others and thinking together how to improve it.
Remember I told you that my employee gave me feedback for areas of improvement? Thank to that, I actually grew a lot professionally and learned a lot of valuable new skills, situations and how to deal with them.
3. The Third Rule of Feedback – how often do you need to give/receive feedback?
If there is a positive feedback you want to give – do it immediately! There is no limit to how often you can say “thank you” or show your appreciation to people.
If there is a negative feedback – it depends. If situation is urgent – give feedback immediately or right the next day but remember to give an example on actual facts. If the situation is not urgent – give it time and observe. I always first act as an observer and do not jump to immediate conclusions. If I see a repetition – then of course, I talk things though.
Follow up regularly. People are people, not robot. Things get forgotten. So, if you want a stable final outcome, then follow up, get patient and don’t get too angry when you repeat yourself. Eventually, you will see the result and it will be awesome! Believe in people!
4. And finally, The Fourth Rule of Feedback – ask yourself if you choose your language wisely
If you work in multinational environment like I do (working with people from Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, India, Germany) you might find it useful to know how different cultures perceive positive or negative feedback. There are plenty of articles in the internet, like examples given HERE and HERE, where you can find interesting things about cultural differences. You will be astonished to realise that Germans are very direct in communication, use exclamation marks in e-mails (which can be often perceived as shouting) and do not try to say things in softer manner at all. British people on the other hand mean really negative when they say “you might have given more thought to this solution”. Therefore, be careful when you operate with different cultural environments, choose your words wisely and make sure you understood well what the other person was actually saying.
5. Final Thoughts
Let me share with you some final thoughts as a “take away” from this article:
- Be open to get feedback and look forward to negative feedback,
- Give feedback regularly and base it on facts,
- Never be too bossy to avoid negative feedback and listen to what people tell you,
- Remember there is never enough of you saying “thank you”,
- Be patient, believe in people and remember about cultural differences.
I hope this article was informative for you and I wish you all the best in improving your communication skills in providing and receiving feedback.