The importance of giving and receiving feedback on the job

Man and woman sitting across each other at a desk

Giving well prepared feedback has a positive effect on employees’ satisfaction and performance. How do you give feedback in a respectful and honest way?

Some companies have long since established a feedback culture that works smoothly and well. In others, employees wait in vain for anyone to say anything about their work. Yet studies show that feedback, if used sensibly, can both motivate staff and improve performance. Not only that, it can also boost employee satisfaction. Clearly, there are plenty of reasons to attach commensurate importance to this topic.

“No news is good news” is an old saying that still seems to accurately describe the communication policy applied in many workplaces. If the management have nothing to criticize, one simply has to assume that they are happy with the work done. While this approach may seem efficient and time-saving at first glance, it does not pay off in the long term. Why? Because many employees find it frustrating and demotivating if they never learn what their bosses and colleagues really think about their work. A study by personnel consultancy Rochus Mummert, for example, finds that continuous feedback has a direct impact on perceived respect within the company. Similarly, a Yale University study shows that recognition significantly improves employees’ motivation and productivity. 

Dialogue between equals

A few words hastily exchanged in the corridor are not usually very helpful. Respectful feedback needs time, space and the attention of everyone concerned. It should also be properly prepared: Constructive feedback is about more than just a quick word of praise or spontaneous criticism not backed by adequate reasoning. Instead, it is important to cultivate a dialogue between equals, where possible differences between self-perception and outside perception can be talked through. Only then do employees ultimately have a chance to question and consider their own performance and think about what they might do better in the future. 

Good preparation is half the battle

Everyone naturally wants to receive as much recognition as possible for what they do. Be that as it may, we also need to be aware that honest and clearly formulated feedback is in our own best interests. Honest feedback gives us a valuable opportunity to learn and develop. To prepare for a feedback meeting, it makes sense to think and reflect on your own work, on the topics you want to address and why you want to address them. It is also useful to prepare solid arguments for the key points, as well as explanations for putative criticisms that could be leveled against you. If you know exactly where you stand with your performance, your goals and your desire to improve, you are in a good place. 

Dealing with criticism

If criticism and negative feedback is aired, it can elicit a variety of reactions – from acceptance to rejection to anger. In this situation, it is helpful to take your interlocutor’s observations for what they are: personal perceptions. The important thing is not to switch off inside and dispute any unpleasant feedback on principle. Why? Because this comes across as a lack of control and can, in the worst case, be seen as a refusal to accept advice. Rather, you should listen attentively and accept criticism openly, provided it is justified. If you genuinely see things differently and have good arguments to back up your point of view, then express them by all means. Conversely, if your superiors or colleagues ask for feedback, it is again useful to create an appropriate setting for the conversation – and to think in advance about what feedback you want to give and the reasons why. Plausible feedback should always be expressed calmly and objectively. It should be as specific as possible and avoid generalizations. 

Man and woman looking at laptop

From annual performance reviews to feedback apps

Especially at traditional companies with clearly defined hierarchies, annual performance reviews are still a common way to communicate feedback. The drawback with this approach is that managers can only tackle certain situations and developments months after they actually happened. More agile companies therefore often prefer regular feedback cycles. Increasingly, they also use digital tools such as feedback apps and online surveys. Standardized feedback forms have likewise become an established option that can be used to provide bottom-up feedback on managerial staff. What is known as 90-degree feedback involves a one-on-one dialogue where one employee assesses both their superior and themselves. This, of course, also works in the opposite direction – provided enough opinions assessing the superior can be obtained to keep the survey anonymous.

Feedback from different directions

Three other methods – 180, 270 and 360-degree feedback – are referred to as all-round assessments. The difference is rooted merely in the number of perspectives solicited. 180-degree feedback, for instance, complements your own assessment with feedback from colleagues and immediate superiors. 270-degree feedback adds in the views of colleagues on the same hierarchic level, while 360-degree feedback also has recourse to external perspectives – usually those of partners or customers. The aim of such multidimensional feedback is to arrive at assessments that are as objective as possible and, in so doing, enable the recipients to recognize both their strengths and those areas where they still need to develop. 

Modern forms of feedback for millennials

Unlike older employees, millennials have grown up with social media “likes” as a more or less permanent mode of feedback. The resultant craving for recognition is equally tangible at work, where millennials frequently want their performance to be assessed in real time and actively demand feedback. Filling out a form once a year no longer fits in with this ethos: Regular feedback meetings are needed instead. Additionally, use of smartphones, tablets and notebooks also provides all kinds of options to enrich feedback practices, for example with apps. Companies that do this gain a competitive edge as attractive employers who cultivate a transparent feedback culture, thereby accommodating the varying needs of different generations. 

Taking the initiative boosts satisfaction

Having your performance reflected back by others is the best way to encourage focused development. But no one has to wait for feedback: Studies show that actively seeking feedback has a positive impact on employees’ performance and sense of satisfaction. That said, sweeping statements and feedback that focuses mainly on the past often miss the mark. Since most people who go looking for feedback are interested in their personal development, the most helpful response is to give them specific advice regarding their behavior in the future. 

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