A focus of this blog is to help you have better conversations. Enhancing dialogue at work, in classrooms and throughout neighbourhoods makes our communities more engaged, diverse and healthier. Accepting and offering feedback are essential elements of great conversations. Giving and receiving praise or criticism isn’t easy, but human beings crave it because knowing where we stand with our boss or our friends makes relationships stronger. Last week I wrote about how to ask for feedback. This week’s article focuses on how to give feedback so that you can help others enhance their personal and professional potential.

Get permission

People need to be ready to hear feedback before they receive it. So be sure to create a safe space for criticism and a comfortable space for praise (not everyone handles compliments well). If people feel weird about receiving feedback then they are not likely to act on it. Enhancing open dialogue in your team culture by expecting employees to give each other feedback or literally asking “may I give you some input on this email?” are two ways that you can create safe spaces for critical and positive dialogue.

Be timely

A high-performing colleague of mine inspired me when she told me a few stories about what’s happened since she eliminated one-on-one meetings with her employees. Feedback is timelier because it happens in the moment, not a week or two later when an Outlook meeting creates space for it. The more consistent you are with feedback the easier it becomes to deliver it on point and when it will make the biggest impact.

Give concrete examples

“All too often managers offer criticism in general terms, leaving the receiver to guess what remedy is expected,” says HBR’s Deborah Bright. Whether or not you agree with what’s being said about a colleague or direct report doesn’t matter because it’s someone’s perspective. So practice delivering feedback that you might not agree with. For example, I recently had to share with an employee of mine that several people asked why she was “so serious” and if she ever smiled. I acknowledged that I didn’t necessarily agree with the comments and wanted to work with my teammate to address peoples’ questions and concerns, which has unfolded very successfully (mostly because she is very fun, but is a “tough nut to crack”, too). According to Bright, “engaging employees in a specific solution ensures they’ll get it right next time, communicates respect for their opinions, and builds their confidence.”

Explain the impact

Giving is not about being kind or altruistic. Sometimes the feedback that we have to share is uncomfortable, harsh or surprising. Kindness guru Adam Grant suggests that givers have peoples’ long-term interests at heart:

Productive givers focus on acting in the long-term best interests of others, even if it’s not pleasant. They have the courage to give the critical feedback we prefer not to hear, but truly need to hear. They offer tough love, knowing that we might like them less, but we’ll come to trust and respect them more.

Be sure to focus on the impact of the behaviour or product that you’re criticizing or praising, as opposed to the intention. For example, providing feedback that a team you manage behaves “too casually” is very different from articulating the impact of such behaviour, which might be that “clients have expressed concern that the sales team is un-professional and I’m worried that it will result in lost business.” And remember that not everyone in your life is going to take feedback the same way, so adapt your approach to reflect individual preferences.

Support the way forward

With positivity and empathy, invite the receiver of feedback to collaborate on building a shared understanding of what’s been said and outline some potential next steps. HBR’s Amy Gallo suggests that questions like “what do you want to be known for?” and “what matters most to you?” help folks to clarify motivations, which you can help to align with a company’s or community’s needs. After all, feedback isn’t one-directional. It’s a reciprocal experience and we’re all in it together.

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