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Feedback Splash Back


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Managing Others
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By Tom Davidson

Q. What’s the best way to give feedback without getting splash back?

A. Certainly one of the most uncomfortable yet most important part of a manager’s job, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but there are some key principles you need to know, practice and weave together for each individual case. Here are my top three, context, data and balance.

Context – Just walking up to someone and asking, “Can I give you some feedback?” is a good way to have your feedback turn into a splash back. Like a farmer, you almost always need to prepare the soil before planting the seed. Advanced principles on this include “contracting” and “linking to motivations.” In any case, a little site preparation goes a long way. Here are some examples:

  • “Next time we meet, I’d like to share some observations about _____ that could be very helpful in the future.”
  • “I’d like to get your thoughts on _____ when we meet next week and share some ideas on the matter as well.”
  • “Before I forget, let’s talk about how the _____ went, both what went well and what we could do even better next time.”

Data – The Boy Scout motto says it all, “Be Prepared,” but you also want to be timely. You’ll want to have specific behaviors and results about what went well and what could have gone better and not wait too long to share your observations. If you think avoiding specifics is a good idea because it avoids getting someone upset, try talking in generalities and see what happens!  Advanced principles on this topic include the use of “patterns” and framing the your feedback in terms of “impacts versus intentions.”

Balance – Some simplistic models talk in terms of a “feedback sandwich” (i.e., say something positive, then something negative, then something positive). While the principle of this is sound – offering balanced feedback – the art of it is more complicated. The key is to weave together both what went well and could have gone better. Keep in mind that some individuals need very little positive and want the improvements directly. Others need three to five positives for every “needs improvement.” Advanced principles on this topic include “the need to be blunt” and “the downsides of being too rosy.”

What have you learned on this subject and what would you like to learn more about! 


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