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How To Give Feedback Effectively To Develop People And Improve Performance 

Feedback is a specialized form of professional development, one with which many new managers and leaders struggle. Part of the reason for this is that feedback has been taught as either positive or negative, with the latter difficult to deliver.

To make the delivery of negative feedback easier, managers and leaders have for years been taught the “sandwich model,” in which negative feedback is sandwiched between so-called positive feedback statements.

This process really does not work. As soon as you give someone a piece of positive feedback, they wait for the “but…” to appear. Telling someone they have “done something well, but…” negates the positive impact of the opening words.

When giving feedback your intention should be to help someone build competency and/or confidence in their abilities by helping them determine how to change or improve performance. Basically, your intention when giving feedback should be to help someone learn and develop.

Hence, if your intention is to help someone improve, learn, or develop how could any feedback be perceived as negative? All leaders should dump the phrases “positive feedback” and “negative feedback” from their terminology. Instead, replace these with the phrases “reinforcing feedback” and “developmental feedback.” 

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Use reinforcing feedback when you want to reinforce performance or behavior that is producing desired results and outcomes. Your goal here is recognition of what a person is doing well in order to encourage and motivate them to continue doing so more frequently or in other relevant situations. This not only improves the likelihood of such performance or behavior being repeated, it also builds confidence in the person receiving such feedback.

Use developmental feedback when there is a need to provide corrective instructions or to help someone determine how to change or improve their performance. Again, it is given with the intention of helping that person learn and develop, as well as shaping desired behavior and increasing the likelihood that future performance will be improved.

Providing feedback is also a factor in increasing employee engagement, but only if it is done in the proper way. A leader’s intention in giving feedback to a team member must always be for the purpose of helping the employee improve performance or behavior. Feedback should never be given when upset, angered, or disappointed with a direct report or colleague.

Additionally, the purpose of feedback should never be to belittle or disparage the employee, make them feel less-than-adequate, or with the intention of punishing the team member. And, of course, scolding an employee is neither a form of coaching nor proper engagement-inducing feedback.

This is not to say there is no place for corrective feedback in the workplace. Part of personal development means learning from mistakes and errors. If someone is doing something wrong, then corrective feedback is mandatory. But it will only be engagement-inducing and productive feedback if such corrective feedback is given with the intention of helping the other person improve performance or behavior. Thus, leaders need to offer feedback that helps and inspires team members to perform at higher, more productive levels, not cut them down to size through criticism, ridicule, or denigrating remarks.

All feedback should be delivered in an on-going, timely and non-judgmental manner. It also needs to be specific, descriptive, detailed, actionable, and future-focused. You are not looking for ownership of blame here or excuses. You are looking for ways to improve future performance or to correct unacceptable behavior going forward.

This article is excerpted from my book Great Leadership Words of Wisdom, which is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats and has over 1000 quotes on leadership from global business leaders, statesmen, athletes, coaches, sages, and philosophers.

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