Decoding constructive feedback: what works?

Haven't we all dreamed of the metaphorical pat on the back from our leaders for a job well done? This sense of validation motivates us to keep doing more, positively reinforces the job well done, and leaves us wanting to perform better. As most organizations scale, workplace feedback becomes a fundamental pillar of the company's culture and an important tool in building great teams.

Successful teamwork stems from an open and transparent culture. - Zoho Cliq

Delivering positive feedback is often quite easy. It might be spontaneous in front of the team or a closed one-on-one discussion, but we can all agree that positive feedback makes both the giving and receiving parties feel good. It does, doesn't it?   

What about the "mum-effect "? 

Now, let's focus on the part that all of us feel icky about.

Communicating constructive feedback that's largely perceived as negative, but in truth is valuable to the recipient, and helps them thrive.  It is natural to hold off from having difficult conversations.

The "mum-effect" is an actual condition where people hold themselves back from sharing negative or any kind of bad information, just because they want to avoid or not deal with the consequences that come with this potential conflict.

 The neuroscience behind  it all

It's valuable to dig down deep and understand the science behind what goes when receiving any kind of feedback. The human brain is designed to act on a few basic principles, one of which is to keep us safe from any perceived threat. The amygdala is a key part of our brain that receives information through our senses and translates these into emotions. Figuratively speaking, your brain freezes when you receive any sort of negative feedback that might be perceived as a threat. This leads to reduced analytical and creative thinking,  making you more anxious, stressed, and close out any sort of processing.

Building a culture that facilitates feedback  

To avoid situations that might trigger the "mum-effect" in you, here's what you as a leader should do to build a culture of employee engagement that facilitates feedback.

Instill trust and reliability 

Think about this: You'll probably get defensive when someone walks up to you randomly and points out mistakes on something that you've been working on.

You're more likely to take constructive feedback and act upon it when it comes from someone you trust.  Trust here refers to the sense of understanding you have in the person's knowledge and confidence that they have your best interests at heart. Of course, building this trust is not going to happen in a day.

Employee engagement is key. - Zoho Cliq

Establishing a good rapport with someone you manage needs effort and time. So, take the time to show the other person you're there to help them, sit with them if need be, and most importantly, relinquish control. Let your team know you trust them to be responsible for their work and avoid micro-managing their process.

Make sure everyone is heard

Consider any successful team and you'll see it takes more than sheer dedication, hard work, and consistency to get where they are currently.  Ask your team a lot of questions. Be open to brainstorming ideas and show them that you want their voices to be heard. The magic mantra for building a power unit that functions best is "make sure everyone's voice is heard."

Create team-wide channel #ideas on Cliq and encourage people to share their opinions, new ideas and more.

 Balance your praise-to-criticism  ratio

This Harvard Business Review study, which examined the effectiveness of "60 strategic-business-unit leadership teams at a large information-processing company," revealed that the greatest difference between the most and least successful teams was the ratio of positive to negative comments. The top-performing teams gave each other more than five positive comments for each piece of criticism.

So, make sure to balance out your praise-to-criticism ratio and take every opportunity to recognize your team's accomplishments. Just be sure you don't push it to an extent where you are spewing false praise or sugar-coating issues that need work.

Set clear goals 

The idea of feedback itself has always been interlinked with goal-setting. The goal here is setting the standard to evaluate one's performance. Imagine you're gearing up to give some solid feedback to your sales executive. How will you evaluate the numbers they've brought in and rate their performance, without,

a) Looking into past performance

b) Providing a clear vision on what has been done vs what was the expected outcome?

It always helps when you're specific, clear, and precise about an employee's performance. Tell them what they should be working towards, give them clear targets, recognize their strengths, and show how they can go about improving even more.

Creating the ideal mix  

There is no rulebook or strategy to curate feedback that's effective. Many employees want more than just, "Good job!" They want the truth. In fact, 72% of employees want to hear corrective, critical feedback from their leaders as well, to help them improve their performance.

Constructive, corrective feedback should answer three simple questions in terms of work goals:

  • Where am I heading?

  • How am I going?

  • What will be my next plan of action?

The recipe for effective feedback is a good mix of trust, empathy, timing, and understanding. - Zoho Cliq

Finally, in addition to everything else that's been said and written about critical-corrective feedback, there's one more thing to keep in mind:

If you couldn't take it yourself, then don't give it!

The art of accepting constructive feedback

When all's said and done, most leaders put a lot of thought and consideration into the feedback they pass on. It is indeed hard to be on the receiving end and more often than not, when you tend to work closely on something and if the feedback you get is not what you expected, things can go awry.

To make the process easier, here are four simple things to remember when receiving feedback.

Lower your guard and hear 'em out!

It is natural to get defensive when you have people pointing out an issue with something you've done. Remind yourself (again) that they only have your best intentions at heart and want the team to succeed. If your immediate reaction would be to either counter-argue or give them an explanation of why you did something the way you did it, hold on just for an extra second.

Consider their thoughts, reflect upon it in your own course, and most importantly, squash that ego before you reply. And remember, in nearly every case, it's not about you.

Ask questions—decode your feedback

Acknowledge the feedback with constructive questions. Asking related questions will get you more clarity and give you perspective on the feedback provided. Get down to the root cause of the problem being addressed, decode it, identify a solution, and consult on it if required.

Don't beat yourself up too much

It is completely okay when you don't end up with the best result every time! Don't beat yourself up too much. In fact, talk about it with your leader during your feedback session and let them know how you feel. You never know what could come out of this meeting. Another secret is to take only what you find helpful and leave out the rest.

Actively follow up

Take notes, and take action. Create a plan to address the feedback you receive and let your leader know how you're progressing with timely updates because nothing works better than this!

Wrapping up 

Workplaces that facilitate an accepting feedback culture show tremendous growth for the organization and employees alike. Setting up an effective feedback process early on is the key to sustaining it as the organization scales up.  The effort level that goes into creating this well-oiled structure is often high, but when the rewards are a heightened sense of employee performance and productivity in the long run, it is well worth it.

We'd love to hear about the feedback practices you've introduced in your workplace. If you have something that works best for your team, let us know in the comments below!


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