Was That Constructive Feedback?

leaders feedback table laptop
Jimese Harkley, CUDE, J.D., SPP, CCE Photo

3 minutes

Mastering the art of giving compliments and critiques is key to the development of individuals and organizations.

We all know about the “feedback sandwich,” the idea that you start a feedback session with a compliment, move to the area of concern, then end with another compliment.

But some experts are saying it’s time to take the feedback sandwich off the menu

Why doesn’t this traditional approach work every time? Some leaders find that the area that needs improvement gets lost between the compliments. Another problem is that some people hear the compliment, brace themselves for the negative they know is coming, and end up not hearing or believing the compliment!

Researchers have proposed other strategies that may help you successfully talk with an employee about what they’re doing well and also get them to embrace the need to improve in some areas. 

Managers and leaders must succeed in their efforts to give feedback because higher levels of feedback are associated with 89% greater thriving at work, 63% more engagement and 79% higher job satisfaction, according to research co-authored by Christine Porath, Ph.D., a tenured professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.  

“People who receive more feedback are also 1.2 times more likely to stay with the organization” adds Porath, the author of Mastering Community: The Surprising Ways Coming Together Moves Us from Surviving to Thriving.

So, what can you do to give better feedback, the kind that will help your team members grow—and in turn make your credit union a better organization? Here are five ideas you can try, based on an article from Greater Good Magazine from the University of California at Berkley.

5 Ways to Give Better Feedback

Instead of the feedback sandwich, use radical candor, as described in Radical Candor: How to Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott. Show that you care personally—by acknowledging others, listening attentively and thanking people—while at the same time challenging a certain behavior directly.

Put the feedback into context. Briefly describe the specific situation in which the behavior of concern took place. Also, describe why you’re giving this feedback. For example, you might be hoping it will make the person’s efforts to do a task more successful. 

Choose the timing of when you give feedback and be selective about where you give it. Try to give feedback as soon as possible after the event. You might also set up a feedback session for success by asking whether someone is ready to hear feedback. Getting their buy-in may aid their ability to take in and act on what you say. In addition, giving negative feedback in a private setting is typically better than doing so in front of a group.

Remember that non-verbal communication is just as important as what you say out loud. Research from Marie Dasborough found that people who received positive feedback accompanied by negative emotional signals, such as frowns or narrowed eyes, reported feeling worse about their performance than participants who received negative feedback accompanied by nods and smiles.

Be open about your own need for feedback. Adam Grant suggests in this article that you level the playing field before giving feedback by saying something like, “I’ve grown a lot from managers’ and friends’ feedback, and I’m trying to pay that forward,” or “Now that we’ve worked together, it would be great if we could help each other improve by providing feedback.”

Get more tips on giving feedback effectively through Harvard ManageMentor, a benefit of CUES Unlimited and Unlimited+ membership. The offering includes not only the “Feedback Essentials” course but also 39 others, including “Coaching,” “Developing Employees” and “Team Management.”

Jimese Harkley, JD, CUDE, SPP, CCE, is VP/membership for CUES.

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