Using Self-Awareness and Emotional Intelligence When Giving Feedback

Sharlyn Lauby, HR Bartender
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(Editors Note: Today’s post comes from Sharlyn Lauby of HR Bartender and ITM Group.)

Feedback is the cornerstone of effective communication. The regular exchange of authentic feedback builds trust in working relationships. Feedback is essential for creating an engaged and motivated workforce. Yet, organizations don’t often give enough attention toward making sure all employees, not just managers, can deliver effective feedback. And receive it.

Feedback isn’t a one-way conversation. It’s a two-way discussion. All effective feedback, whether it’s positive or negative, has four qualities:

  1. It’s specific. There’s nothing wrong with the phrase “Good job!” but it’s not as effective as “Thank you for submitting your TPS Report a day early.”
  2. It’s timely. If a person hears they made a mistake six months ago, it doesn’t have the same weight has hearing about it a couple of days after the incident. In fact, someone could argue that waiting six months is the equivalent of tacit approval.
  3. It focuses on behaviors. The goal of giving or getting feedback is performance – either to change performance or keep doing a good job. So, it should be focused on behaviors, not attitudes. If you’re trying to communicate that a person has a good attitude, describe their attitude in terms of the things they do that demonstrate their good attitude.
  4. It has consequences, meaning an effect or result, for the individuals involved. Whenever feedback is exchanged, there’s the expectation that the giver is being sincere and the receiver is open to change.

But there’s more to feedback that creating the right message. It also must be delivered the right way. This is where our self-awareness and emotional intelligence skills come into the conversation. Anytime we give or receive feedback, we must be keenly aware of our preferred communication style and the style of the other person. If we want feedback to be received in the spirit for which it’s intended, then we need to deliver it in the other person’s style. For example:

Time of day. I’m a morning person. If I’m trying to deliver feedback to someone who isn’t a morning person, I shouldn’t schedule the meeting at 9:00 a.m. Find a time in the afternoon, when the other person will be more receptive.

Location. Today’s office environments have a lot of open spaces. Some feedback is perfectly acceptable being delivered in an open area. Other feedback, not so much. And we’re not talking about “praise in public and criticize in private.” There are employees who would be mortified at public displays of recognition even if it’s for their good work.

Medium. There are going to be exceptions to this, but find a way to communicate on their preferred method of communication. If they’re cool with email, and the message is okay to be sent via that medium, then use it. Understand there will be times when in-person or phone communication should be the only option.

Tone. We’re not talking about the volume of your voice. Some people have a very acerbic tone and 99 percent of the time, the office loves it. But there are those moments when sarcasm needs to be in check. It’s possible that a compliment could be misinterpreted as an insult when delivered in the wrong tone.

Body language. When feedback is given in person, posture and eye-contact are incredibly important. Glancing at your phone or watch can send the message that this isn’t an important conversation. Poor posture can impact your tone. Even when you’re on the phone, posture can impact the tone of your voice.

Listening. Once you deliver feedback, your job isn’t over. In fact, it’s just begun. Now it’s time to listen to the other person. You might need to answer questions, clarify comments, and talk about future expectations. Being a good listener lets the other person know you’re sincere about the feedback that you just provided.

In the feedback loop, individuals giving feedback need to take a moment and ask themselves, “I need to give another employee feedback; so when, where, and how does this person want to receive the information?” Because the goal of delivering feedback is to have the other person accept the information. That doesn’t happen if the message is delivered in the way that’s convenient for the giver and not the receiver.

It can sound obvious to say, “Communicate on the other person’s channel.” But amazingly, it doesn’t happen…a lot. People get busy, they need to deliver feedback, so they just do it without regard. Or they deliver the feedback in a way that’s comfortable for them. Effective feedback is important and worth the time to get it right. Working relationships are better and organizational goals get accomplished when feedback is done right.

P.S. Consider bookmarking this page for the next time you or someone on your team needs to deliver some feedback. It can be used as a checklist.

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