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The Subtle Art Of Giving Effective Feedback


Receiving and giving feedback is at the core of the workplace philosophy of continuous improvement. If an individual must improve, the first step is the identification of areas that need to be worked upon

A typical corporate setting provides several formal platforms for such developmental feedback to be shared – performance discussions, 360-degree feedback and other such. However, these are expectedly not free of personal biases, prejudices and subconscious agendas. For the sake of this discussion let us focus on the feedback flowing from a manager to a subordinate.

As a manager, how often is such feedback influenced by our like or dislike for the person concerned or their working style? If someone we don’t share a particularly healthy relationship with does something to negatively impact the team’s performance, do we or do we not approach the feedback sharing process with a vengeance?

The truth is that in such situations, most of ususe our feedback as a means to make the receiver realise his or her mistake and feel remorseful, or even to make them change their ways to fit our expectations. We expect our pronouncements to be accepted without protest and to be instantaneously acted upon.

Managing Subordinate

Enough research is available to suggest that the human mind responds more strongly to negative cues than to positive ones. If you lose a currency note, it is likely to play on your mind for much longer than the joy of having found one. Thus, by extension, our feedback, even the negative variety, needs to be peppered with disproportionately higher number of positive cues for it to be absorbed appropriately.

It is important that as managers we realize that our relationships with our subordinates are transitory. A manager’s Primary responsibility is not to change a subordinate’s conduct or personality, but to help them become more effective given the organisational and personal constraints.

Thus, a manager would be doing greater justice to his role by partnering with his subordinates in their developmental journey rather than to make them feel belittled and rebuked. This requires creating a relationship of mutual trust and acceptance, which, at least when it comes to giving feedback, requires an empathetic approach and far more time spent in listening than in talking.

There are enough examples where managers, by simply letting go of their biases and approaching the feedback process for what it is supposed to be, have successfully mended their working relationships with some of their more difficult subordinates. Can you think of someone on your team that you would want to try this approach out with?

This Opinion Piece was first published in the print version of January 2020 issue.

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