Giving and Receiving Feedback

June 15, 2008

Annual performance appraisal time has come and gone at MPOW and with it comes the ups and downs of giving and receiving feedback. One of the hardest things a manager has to do is provide feedback about a person’s performance. It is especially difficult if the feedback is negative, for aside from the discomfort that comes along with telling someone something they don’t want to hear, comes the potentially unpleasant experience of them telling you all sorts of things that you don’t want to hear. However, there are some tactics you can employ to make the experience go smoothly and help turn an uncomfortable situation into a positive and constructive one.

Giving Feedback:

1. Be Clear: Know what you want to say and make sure you are saying it clearly. Write it out beforehand and practice the conversation that you want to have.

2. Be Specific: Address the exact issues. Avoid generalizations. Give examples of the behavior or performance that needs to be corrected or is at issue.

3. Emphasize the Positive: Don’t let the entire conversation be negative. If possible, emphasize and encourage what is working well. However, do not sandwich negative feedback in between positive comments. This may deemphasize the importance of the areas needing improvement. Begin or end the discussion with the positive.

4. Focus on the Behavior NOT the Person: This is not personal, it is professional. It has nothing to do with who someone is, but about the actions they exhibit while at work. Discuss specific behaviors and cite examples, do not make assumptions about or imply anything about a person’s personality, intelligence, demeanor, etc. The desired outcome of the discussion is a change in behavior, not a radical transformation of a person’s character.

5. Own the Feedback: Don’t pretend to be the messenger. You’re the manager, you’ve observed the areas of improvement, you’re performing the evaluation. Don’t try to kid yourself or your employee by acting like the criticism is coming from someplace else.

6. Don’t Provide Advice: Very often people don’t need advice on how to change poor performance- they usually know the cause and if it is a repetitive problem they have heard all the advice they can hear. Instead of offering your personal insight and advice, allow the person to take ownership of their problem and discuss a plan of improvement. Ask what they can do to change a situation. What can you work on together to reach the desired outcome? How can they work better? What will they do to improve their situation?

7. Discuss Expectations and Timelines: Clearly lay out expectations and the time frame in which to achieve them. Clearly define benchmarks and how they will be evaluated. Make sure that employees understand what is expected of them and that you will be watching for improvement. Make sure employees understand the consequences if they fail to change or improve behavior.

Receiving Feedback:

1. Don’t Justify or Argue your Position: Don’t lose your temper. Ever. Arguing will only make an uncomfortable situation worse and solves nothing.

2. Have Some Perspective: Remember that this is about specific behavior or instances. This is not personal and is not a judgment or indictment of you as a person. You’re having a discussion about how you interact with patrons at a service desk, not about the moral fiber of your soul.

3. Think Before you Respond: Listen to what is being said and consider it before responding. Ask questions, ask for clarification. Don’t interrupt or have a biting comeback for every comment. Consider what the feedback is about and why it is negative. Ask yourself if there is any truth to it before shooting off a response.

4. Don’t Sulk: Act like an adult, not a child. It is perfectly acceptable to give yourself some space while thinking about what has been said; however ignoring someone, sulking, or being nasty are not effective and mature responses to processing and handling negative feedback.

5. Choose Your Path: No matter what is said and discussed, ultimately what you do with feedback is your decision. You can choose to look at it as a learning and growth experience and use it to improve yourself and your work, or you can stew about it and let it consume you. Own your actions and decisions. Be honest with yourself- is the criticism something you have heard before and are struggling with? Do you need assistance in turning performance around? Are you happy in your work environment?

No one likes to hear anything negative about themselves. Giving someone negative feedback is not a fun experience. It is not something managers look forward to doing. The best we can hope for is that we take a bad situation and make it a positive one by honestly discussing issues and working together to develop strategies for improvement.

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5 Responses to “Giving and Receiving Feedback”

  1. Nicole said

    Thank you for this! I’m gearing up to give my very first performance evaluations and am very nervous about the whole situation.

  2. Mary Carmen said

    You’re welcome, Nicole. I can not stress enough how much writing out what you want to say beforehand helps! I have given several evaluations where I scripted what I wanted to say prior to the meeting. It helped me stay focused and remember to discuss all the points that I needed to cover. Good luck!

  3. Kris Alpi said

    I’m glad American Libraries Direct picked this post up. Great information worth sharing broadly, not just in libraries!

  4. […] Giving and Receiving¬†Feedback […]

  5. Mary Carmen,

    An excellent post–and I have a request (can’t find an email address for you, so): I’d like blanket permission to reuse posts from Circ and Serve, always linked and with credit, as portions of articles for PALINET Leadership Network (http://pln.palinet.org)–this post being one that I believe would make a good portion of an article.

    Thanks,
    walt c.

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