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Working in diverse teams
Working in diverse teams

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2 Giving and receiving feedback

Being able to acknowledge good contributions and provide constructive criticism is an essential skill for successful teamwork. If a member of your team is not getting on with the tasks that they have been given in the way you need them to, what are you going to do? While it may be easier to avoid the issue, this is unlikely to be the best approach if you want everyone to enjoy the experience of working as a team and get the most out of the skills each member brings to the table.

Image of a man whispering into a woman’s ear. The woman has a shocked expression on her face.
Figure 1 Giving and receiving feedback

Why are we so reluctant to provide negative feedback? Understanding this can be helpful to recognise what is preventing us from doing so.

Reasons we are reluctant to give feedback:

  • People take criticism personally. Everyone is humans, has feelings and wants to be accepted, respected, appreciated and valued. Quite simply we don’t want to hurt another person’s feelings.
  • The one negative message is the one that speaks loudest and the one that you cannot forget however well you try to couch this in kind words.
  • Some people just aren’t good at delivering feedback in a way that does not upset people. If you have had bad experience when you have tried this before, you may feel it is easier just to ignore the issue and work around it.

However, providing effective feedback is a skill like any other, which you can work on and improve. Consider these ways of improving the content of the message you are giving:

  1. Concentrate on the behaviour and not the person. One way of doing this is to start by stating the behaviour in question and then describing how it makes you feel. End with what you would like the person to do about it. This approach helps focus on the behaviour and how it is affecting you. Therefore the person receiving the feedback is less likely to feel that you are criticising or accusing them.
  2. Balance the content. Using a feedback sandwich (Figure 2) can help soften the blow of your words as you first provide positive feedback and identify what the person is doing well before giving constructive criticism and then finishing with another positive. This can help the person remain confident in what they can do and more able to take on board what they need to do to improve. It ensures that the person is able to keep a sense of perspective rather than focusing on what they could see as a criticism. Do be careful however of making this seem forced and losing the message you are trying to deliver by couching it in too many positives!
    Image of a sandwich.
    Figure 2  The feedback sandwich
  3. Be specific. Avoid general comments that may be of limited use. Try instead to give examples to illustrate your statement. Include alternatives rather than just giving advice as this allows the receiver to decide what to do with your feedback.
  1. Be realistic. Your feedback should focus on what can be changed. It is frustrating to receive feedback about something that you cannot alter.
  2. Avoid ‘always’ and ‘never’. People’s behaviour is rarely consistent. Suggesting that it is will only lead to the receiving party entering into a debate with you about the times that this has not been the case.
  3. Own the feedback. Use the pronoun ‘I’ rather than ‘they’ or ‘one’ which imply that your opinion is universally held. Remember that feedback is merely your opinion.
  4. Be timely. Choose an appropriate time to give your feedback. If possible be prompt, as the feedback will lose its impact if it is delayed too long. Delaying can also cause feelings of guilt or resentment in the person receiving the feedback as the chance of improvement or doing something different may have passed. However it may be worth taking the person aside after the event if saying something at the time would cause embarrassment and mean that it was more difficult for the person to take on board the message you are trying to communicate.

Now watch the following video, which explains how to both give and receive feedback.

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