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FMI Quarterly/December 2013/December 1, 2013

Feedback: Improving the Communication Flow

businesscharacter50_imageGiving and receiving feedback is an essential part of communication. In today’s global environment, the ability to communicate effectively and quickly over several mediums is important to success. In today’s team-based, fast-paced work environments, getting feedback must become a way of life. It is as essential to good leadership as keeping your eyes on the road is to safe driving. Feedback makes you aware of how you are doing and what you can do to develop and improve. It builds trust in your relationships.

The topic of feedback is hot in today’s marketplace. Employees are eager to know what is expected of them, how they are doing, and what they need to do to receive greater responsibilities and rewards. Employers are also eager to implement feedback tools and systems so that they can determine how they are doing in the eyes of their customers and employees. Best-of-class organizations also use feedback to help identify areas of success and developmental opportunities for their upcoming leaders.

Feedback is the communication an individual or organization receives from others about how they are perceived, the positive and/or negative impact they are having, and how well they are living up to the expectations of others.

When was the last time you received feedback about how you are doing from someone within your organization, a friend or a family member? Perhaps a customer wrote you a letter telling you how much it meant to her that you had the dedication to ensure that every item was taken care of on the punch list?

Regardless of whether the feedback comes in the form of praise or constructive criticism, it has many potential organizational and individual benefits:

Feedback builds trust with others both professionally and personally. Seeking feedback from others shows that you value input and are secure enough to hear how you can be more effective. Consider how this works: You solicit input either through a formal evaluation process or in a casual setting such as a meal. Once your strengths and growth areas have been identified, you let key people know that you want their help to improve in the growth areas and encouragement to do more of what you do well. Most people will offer you sincere feedback and admire you for involving them and having the courage to be unguarded. They will also trust you more because of the trust in them that you showed.

Feedback facilitates personal growth and prompts change. Remember the story of the emperor who wore no clothes? No one wanted to make him feel bad by telling him an embarrassing truth that was obvious to all. The result was that the emperor never became aware of his blind spot — his unawareness of his inappropriate nudity — while those in his kingdom lost respect for him. We all have blind spots. Feedback from those who work closely with us will help us discover what they are.

Most of us want to do more of the things that encourage others and less of the things that hinder our effectiveness with others. One man received personal 360-degree feedback for the first time at an FMI Leadership Institute. More than a dozen people confirmed that this man treated subordinates as having little or no value. As the message sank in, he began to reflect on a personal history of pain and relational emptiness. For him, it was an “aha” experience that eventually led to changing how he approached others.

Feedback is useful in determining future action plans. Constructive feedback helps us find out what others value most about our contributions. We are tempted to throw our energies into overcoming personal shortfalls. Although we do need to work on these areas, especially if they are interpersonal communication weaknesses, there is generally a greater payoff in developing our areas of strength, and it is usually easier to leverage a strength than to improve a weakness. After all, these strengths are why we were hired to begin with and are the major contribution we make to the organization.

This is not to suggest that we should not work on our weaknesses. We should, especially if they limit our credibility with others. For example, consider John, a talented project manager who is technically sound but who runs other talented staff off the job or out of the company. Eventually, John is given the choice to work on his people and leadership skills or be fired.

Feedback is critical for the coaching process. Most successful people can usually point to a key person in their lives who took a personal interest in them and became a role model or mentor, able to offer words of encouragement, wisdom and instruction at pivotal moments. All of us need someone who sees our potential and is willing to invest in us. We should seek to be that person in someone’s life and, conversely, to have someone who is that person in our life. We should assume that those around us are eager to learn (until they demonstrate otherwise) and be willing to take the time to help them succeed.

Feedback builds self-esteem. People who are sincere in their search for self-improvement and seek to foster growth in others do not rely on shallow communication techniques. Instead, they opt for the arduous task of learning about themselves and developing personal integrity. Improvement in performance and relational skills — and therefore self-esteem — emerges as a byproduct of the real changes in character that take place.

Welcoming feedback is essential to good communication and collaboration because it makes you aware of how you are doing and what you can do to develop and improve, and it builds trust in your relationships. If you have set developmental goals for yourself, feedback from others reinforces the changes you are making, inspires confidence and provides hope for further growth. Providing feedback can help others realize these same benefits.

Feedback is more important than ever because many members of the so-called “Generations X and Y” desire and thrive on it. Feedback is a key factor in the development and retention of this generation of workers.

If you want to increase the chance that you are communicating effectively, then you need to understand that the message people receive is determined largely by what they observe as they watch you talk. Negative body language and tone of voice make it difficult for the words you are saying to be absorbed. Exhibit 1 contrasts positive and negative body language characteristics.

2013q4_feedback_ex1

Being a good listener is also an essential communication skill. Listening involves more than simply hearing the words a person says; you must also interact with that person to ensure you understand his or her message. Exhibit 2 contrasts good and poor listening skills.

2013q4_feedback_ex2

Most people do not like to give criticism. Although this feedback can be difficult to give, you have an obligation to give it so that the people you interact with can experience the same benefits you get when you receive it. The following steps are helpful when providing someone with feedback aimed at improving an aspect of his or her performance or behavior.

  • Describe Behavior. Tell the other person what he or she is doing and why it is causing a problem. Describe behavior, not intentions or motives. This approach can lead to clearer agreement on actual performance.
  • Specify Change. Ask for a specific change in the undesirable behavior. Make the change reasonable. Tell what you are also willing to change to make this agreement work. Agree on the plan for change.
  • Stay Focused. Be gentle, yet firm, and do not allow the person to sidetrack the conversation. He or she can do this in a variety of ways, such as defending his or her actions, verbally attacking you, or becoming self-deprecating, to name a few. Keep the person focused on the changes you need to see and a mutually agreed-upon plan to achieve the objectives.
  • Convey Consequences. State the positive outcome of making the behavior change, as well as the negative and inevitable consequences of continuing in old ways.

Whenever you give any kind of feedback, you should use good listening skills, be aware of what your body language is communicating, and control the tone of voice you are using. You should also know what issues to consider and feedback tools to use, depending on the context in which the feedback will be given. When giving feedback, remember that each person’s unique talents can provide worth. It is important that everyone feels respected and valued. In conducting exit interviews of employees leaving a company, we have observed that the most common reason people decide to leave an organization is a personal-relationship difference or conflict — most often with a supervisor.

Giving feedback is a significant leadership skill. When given well, it encourages, motivates and grows people. When done poorly, it can crush the spirit of people, induce poor performance and utterly demotivate a workforce. Research has shown that leaders and managers who give consistent, authentic and helpful feedback are perceived by others as being much more effective than those who give poor or no feedback. Make feedback a natural part of the daily environment of your workplace and watch morale and performance improve.


Tom Alafat is a principal with FMI Corporation. He can be reached at 303.398.7209 or via email at talafat@fminet.com.

 

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