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On Giving (and Receiving) Feedback

Today, possibly more than ever, communication is hailed as a big factor in fostering healthy workplace culture and relationships. Many businesses are doing away with private offices altogether to encourage collaboration, and in some extreme cases, a few have chosen to completely reorganize their floor plans to achieve the same goal. But while these cooperative efforts are new to the workforce, there is a much older practice that still needs to be perfected, one that is much more central to good communication than a strategically placed cubicle: giving and receiving constructive feedback.

Those on both the giving and receiving ends of feedback have responsibilities to make the exchange as productive as possible. Here are ways to make feedback your friend, regardless of what side you’re on:

Giving Feedback

If you’re an employer or manager, then first and foremost, be sure to give feedback regularly. Rather than boosting productivity and correcting issues, you’ll only be aggravating already existing problems or creating new ones entirely if you save up six months to a year’s worth of comments for performance reviews. Addressing issues as they arise—and acknowledging hard work on a regular basis—are  great ways to ensure that an employee’s performance runs smoothly, not dips and peaks depending on the time of year. And don’t skip over the positive feedback! In fact, encouraging an employee who is doing a good job is imperative to making sure that more constructive feedback is well-received. Employees will be less open to receiving feedback if they feel they only get it when they’ve made a mistake.

When it is necessary to address a problem, be sure to do so in private out of respect for your employee. Likewise, treat it as a conversation—not a lecture. There are ways to make “negative” feedback into constructive feedback, and admonishing someone for making a mistake is not one of them. Instead, be sure to address issues from a neutral stance rather than an accusatory one; for example, “I noticed this project went unfinished” rather than “You failed to finish this project.” At the end of your feedback, always include a way in which the issue can be remedied and avoided in the future, or at the very least, ask if your employee has any ideas on such strategies.

Finally, be sincere. Many choose to use the “sandwich method”—starting and ending with something positive, including any less-than-desirable feedback in between the two—but this only works if all your feedback is related. Avoid taking this route if you are only doing so to sugarcoat your real message. However, if you have three or more “related” comments to give, the sandwich method can be a great way of beginning and ending on a positive note, with the more constructive criticism at the center of the conversation.

Receiving Feedback

Should you find yourself on the receiving end of feedback, it can be a harrowing experience if your supervisor isn’t quite as tactful as to use some of the methods described above. However, whether or not your employer is a pro at constructive conversations is less relevant to what you can take away from your experience than what you make of it, yourself.

Regardless of your situation and your manager’s style, you should always actively seek feedback. This can show that you’re not only approachable, but actually eager to know what you’re doing right and what you can improve on. This will also make it easier to understand your employer if they aren’t the best at communicating. But whatever you do, don’t shut down the moment you receive the commentary you asked for; be open to all types of compliments and criticism, and absorb it all equally. Getting defensive or making excuses could make a manager reluctant to approach you in the future, especially if they are already hesitant to begin with. Instead, process the information and relay it back to be sure you understand it fully.

When you’re both on the same page, be sure to be appreciative of the feedback—whatever its nature might be. If it’s something negative, one sincere apology is enough and you can move on to how you’ll fix and avoid it in the future. If it’s something positive, assure your manager that you’ll be sure to keep it up and appreciate them taking the time out of their day to acknowledge your work. Then, apply your manager’s comments to your future work, and you’ll be well on your way to even better performance—and, possibly, a better relationship with your employer!

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