A psychologist’s view on employee feedback in the workplace

Giving employees feedback is an important part of creating a productive work environment, but it can be difficult to find a balance between being efficient and encouraging. In a recent article for Business.com, a Business Psychologist, James Cummings, provides a framework for employee feedback.

Cummings writes, “As a business psychologist with more than a decade working with organizations, I am always amazed at how hard people find it to provide feedback to others. I have seen senior managers literally hide behind the water cooler to avoid having to provide feedback to staff.  I’ve heard all kinds of rationalizations for this behavior.”

“We all like to be liked, but feedback is essential to improvement. As human beings we crave feedback; we need it! As businesses, we very quickly veer off track if adequate feedback processes are not in place.”

Cummings continues to explain that the fear of unwanted reactions are the root of feedback aversion.

He says, “While feedback is a great way to encourage and reward excellent work, the feedback process can also be an effective way to critique subpar performance and forge a new way ahead. If done properly, it not only improves performance but also builds positive, healthy working relationships. Companies need people with the confidence to stand up for what they believe in; people who understand the role of conflict in creating new ways of working and developing better solutions.”

Giving positive feedback

Here are some positive feedback mechanisms you should actively embrace, according to Cummings:
– Commending a colleague for providing you with a solution
– Discussing team progress and lauding their commitment
– Celebrating a specific milestone and providing a reward

“But, feedback isn’t always about commendation. In situations where you need to challenge a behavior or outcome, whether you are a senior manager or line manager, it is your responsibility to let someone know where they can improve. What really matters, though, is how you go about it. Feedback must be tailored to the person, making them feel valued and letting them know why, where and how they need to grow and improve.”

Remember: “Criticize in private. Praise in public”

Cumming shares the following framework to be used to provide feedback in teams.

1. Begin by telling them what you like
“Don’t go into critique mode by listing a person’s or team’s faults straight away. For someone to be open to something he or she may find disappointing, try beginning by offering an honest compliment.”

2.  Pause and think about your reasons for giving feedback
“Before you provide constructive feedback to someone, check your intentions first. Your advice as a leader or colleague must come from a place of genuine intention. Team success, company growth, or relationship building are great motives for feedback processes.”

3. Tell them what they could have done differently
“Take an objective approach and realize the incompetent or inappropriate behavior in the workplace is often down to a skill or knowledge gap. Without being loud or judgmental, show or tell them how they could have handled the situation differently.”

4.  Explain in detail what you would like them to do next time
“When working with someone set an intention for the future. Tell them what you want and explain your expectations of them in future situations. Provide them with a clear roadmap for change. This may mean putting them on a training course or scheduling on the job training. Focus on knowledge, skills, and attitudes, and avoid calling into question their personality.”

In conclusion, Cummings advises employers, “Remember that feedback isn’t a one-way street. Actively seek out anything about yourself that can improve your working relationships and job productivity. Be willing to learn and develop and you will be leading by example.”

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