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Carole Robin: Feedback is a Gift

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Carole Robin: Feedback is a Gift

Seven tips for giving feedback to others.
People working at various tables in an office space
Giving feedback is crucial for making workplace relationships more functional. | Reuters/Toussaint Kluiters/United Photos

Not all gifts arrive in neat packages. This is definitely true for feedback. Giving it is one of the more difficult tasks that business managers face, yet it is crucial for making workplace relationships more functional and people more productive, says Carole Robin, director of the Arbuckle Leadership Fellows Program at Stanford GSB.

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“Very few people arrive at our doorstep fully developed,” Robin explained in a lecture titled “The Power of Feedback.” Giving them feedback is one of the best ways to help them develop and “be even more efficient and better at what they do.” The bottom line for getting better at providing feedback is to change “your mental model to ‘It’s a gift. It’s data. It’s data I didn’t have before with which I can now make more informed choices.’”

If you do it right, the other person also feels cared for, valued and closer to you, Robin adds. So there are secondary and more important gifts that come from giving someone feedback well.

Here are some tips from Robin for doing it right:

1. Do it Early

Too often when someone does something that bugs us, we tell ourselves, “Ah, it’s not a big deal.” Then, the person does the same thing again, and again. The more we delay saying something about it, the more annoyed we get, and the less patient and effective we will be when we finally confront the person.

2. Avoid Shaming

Feedback can cause the recipient to feel shame or a loss of respect, particularly in certain Asian and Latin cultures.

3. Focus on Behavior

It’s impossible to change someone’s personality, but it is possible to ask that your employee change his or her behavior. Our own behavior is something we can all control. The purpose of feedback is not to change someone else, but rather to motivate the other to move into a problem-solving conversation with you.

4. Stay on Your Side of the Net

Stick with the facts from your point of view, be behaviorally specific, and state the impact that the other person’s behavior has on you. Avoid making “you” statements, such as “You never listen to me.” Try “I feel unheard when you don’t respond to what I’ve said” instead.

5. Be Generous

Assume that the other person thinks he or she is being reasonable. “Very few people get up in the morning, look in the mirror and say, ‘I wonder how I could be a worse colleague today than I was yesterday.’”

6. Speak to the Person’s Interests and State Your Intent

“People will consider changing if you speak to their interests,” Robin says. Show them how changing their behavior will help them, and tell them why you are giving them this feedback — for example, you’re doing it because you care about their success, or because you are invested in having a productive relationship with them.

7. Practice

“We have had occasions where we went to give somebody feedback, our intention was good, and then it felt like we stepped in a pile of doo-doo. Then we don’t ever do it again,” Robin says. “We don’t get better by not doing it again.”

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