How to give and receive feedback

From HP headlines:

Imagine setting out on a journey without a map and signposts. That’s what it would be like if you tried to do your job without feedback from customers, partners, members of your team, and other key stakeholders, said Piau-Phang (PP) Foo, managing director and senior vice president of Global Sales, Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ), in a recent Leading Ideas webcast.

Feedback can be a powerful tool to foster learning and drive better performance. “When executed well and on a consistent basis, it helps get people on track,” said Foo. “It serves as a guide to assist people to know how they are doing and how others perceive their performance.”

Ten tips for receiving feedback and five tips for giving feedback.

Foo cited research that shows that companies that provide frequent feedback energize and motivate their workforce to better performance. They have higher levels of customer satisfaction, hire and retain the best talent, and have better business outcomes.

But giving and receiving feedback, which Foo said is “an objective message about behavior and consequences,” can be challenging. And if you’re like many others, you’ve likely had at least one negative experience when feedback degraded into a verbal wrestling match, an argument about who’s right and wrong.

It doesn’t have to be this way, said Foo. With a little bit of knowledge and preparation, all of us can get better at giving and receiving feedback.

Ten tips for giving feedback

In his webcast, Foo offered HP leaders a range of practical and inspiring ideas for making feedback a competitive advantage, starting with giving feedback:

  1. Set expectations.When someone new joins his team, Foo lets that person know that he typically offers prompt feedback. At the same time, he invites the new employee (and everyone else on his team) to give him prompt feedback, as well.
  2. Make it informal.Foo tries to make feedback a regular occurrence. “Feedback works best if it is a continual process and not something you do only once or twice a year in a formal session,” he said. “Sometimes, I say to one of my subordinates, ‘Hey, let’s grab a quick lunch so I can give you some feedback.’”
  3. Stay focused.Foo says that it is important to focus on just one or two topics at a time—maybe three at the most—so the person receiving feedback is not overwhelmed.
  4. Discuss actions, not attributes.People tend to be more open to practical ideas and suggestions that could enhance their job performance than they are to feedback related to aspects of their personality.
  5. Be specific.Convey the facts in an objective way, said Foo. For example, describe how an employee’s actions have had an impact on a customer or another member of the team. Avoid expressing emotions and feelings, which can put the other person on the defensive.
  6. Check your assumptions.If you plan to give feedback based on something you’ve heard, be sure to investigate the situation for yourself so you can understand the bigger picture and have more empathy. Careless feedback can harm a relationship. “Whatever feedback you give, make sure it’s correct,” Foo said.
  7. Be aware of your motivation.People sometimes use “feedback” as a way to get even with or belittle someone. But that’s not true feedback, said Foo. If you are upset about something, take a time out. “Cool down a little bit. Don’t overreact,” he advised.
  8. Be balanced.Don’t just focus on the negative. Take a look over a period of time and give specific examples of what the person receiving feedback has done well. Acknowledge his or her contributions to customers and the team.
  9. Suggest ways to improve.It’s easy to say that something’s wrong, but the person giving feedback should spend time in advance thinking about ways to improve. “It’s not up to you to come up with all the solutions, but you can start the process,” said Foo.
  10. Agree on a time to follow up. Following up can help make feedback stick, but rather than imposing a timeframe, Foo suggests asking the person receiving feedback when he or she would like to talk about the matter again.

Five tips for receiving feedback

Foo also offered practical insights for receiving feedback:

  1. Go beyond welcoming feedback; ask for it.If you really want to benefit from feedback, seek it, Foo advised. “Make an effort. It can be as simple as sending a quick email to a colleague and saying, ‘How did I do?’”
  2. Manage your emotions.Many of us find it easy to receive feedback when it is positive, but the moment we hear something challenging, we tend to get defensive. “You really need to manage your emotions,” said Foo. “Evaluate the situation before you respond.”
  3. Don’t argue, deny, or try to justify.If the feedback you receive catches you by surprise, try to understand the other person’s point of view before you react. Ask for specific examples. For instance, you could say, “When did you see me doing that?”
  4. Keep the proper perspective.Feedback usually relates to a specific area of your life, and now you have the opportunity to do something about it. Remember that it’s not about your entire life or you as a person.
  5. Take action. After receiving feedback, you have to make a choice: Are you going to act on it, or are you going to ignore it? “I think we have to take action,” said Foo. “If people are willing to give us feedback and we make an effort, it makes an impression.”

Creating a culture of feedback

Feedback can help us learn, grow, and be more fulfilled in our jobs. It can help our team reach higher levels of performance. For these reasons, Foo suggests letting others know that you are open to receiving feedback. Those who might offer you helpful suggestions include people on your team, others in HP, partners and customers.

“Feedback is one of the cheapest, most flexible, yet most powerful tools available to everybody for personal and business success,” said Foo. “It is also perhaps the most underused tool that we have to facilitate learning. I would encourage everybody to use it more often.”