Merely giving an employee or colleague feedback is not enough to change the way they are or do things. Feedback is really received and heard if the person who gives it creates a climate that is conducive to appropriating the message. The keys to feedback that produces impact are: goodwill, a positive attitude, example, precision and legitimacy.
Put positive points first
Starting feedback by saying what is wrong is clearly counterproductive. “People react faster to positive comments, whereas a message about behaviour that needs to be changed takes longer to hit home,” says Alexandra Didry, head of research and development at PerformanSe and a doctor in social and labour psychology. “Communicating negative aspects first does not make it easy for the employee to identify with the content of the feedback or to accept the image that it gives of them.” It is by starting with positive aspects in which the employee can recognise themselves, for example “you are considerate to others in your work”, that the manager creates a climate of trust. This in turn makes it easier to listen to what follows, such as comments on aspects that can be improved.
Take time to expand on areas for progress
“Accepting the positive points in a feedback is a fairly quick cognitive process. It takes much longer to understand and assimilate aspects that require improvement,” Alexandra Didry explains. “This process requires a reassessment of the person’s image of themselves, which does not happen at the same speed for everyone.” For instance, to get to the point where a person is able to say, “I thought I was a good listener, but from what I understood of our discussion, I realise that it can vary depending on whom I’m talking to,” they have to be actively involved and accept to let go of certain beliefs about themselves. Once the person who receives the feedback has started to make this inner shift, anything that is then said regarding challenges can help them to commit to concrete changes.
Adopting an exemplary, considered attitude
By listening to the person who receives the feedback, the manager or recruiter enhances their own legitimacy in the eyes of the one who is evaluated. “The more the person who is delivering the message, with its positive as well as negative aspects, shows through their attitude that they understand and support the reaction of the person who is receiving the feedback, the more trust there will be, which is essential for future changes,” Alexandra Didry adds. Learning and practicing to give feedback will help them develop a natural listening and sharing attitude, which is far removed from any up-down approach that puts the feedback-giver in the position of an expert or teacher.
Choosing precise, objective words that focus on skills
A sure way to have your feedback backfire, is to attack through phrases that reduce the assessed person to a stereotype, such as “you are not a leader at heart”, Alexandra Didry points out. For feedback to be useful and effective, words must be chosen that do not label the person’s character, but that rather focus on skills that he or she might develop.
Current research on appraisal feedback methods:
PerformanSe is working together with Jean-Luc Bernaud, professor in advice and work orientation psychology at the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers (CNAM) on the definition of feedback procedures that are beneficial to participants in a coaching and work orientation process. In a current study conducted at a business school, feedback interviews recorded beforehand with volunteers for the study are analysed and encoded by researchers in order to identify various advisory approaches (reassurance, reformulation, directive advice…).
After the interview phase, participants are asked what their impressions were during the feedback (tone of the interview, credit given to the evaluator, etc.). These data are then used to measure the impact of the evaluator ’s approach as well as the effect that interview procedures have on different behavioural variables, such as the intention to commit to development activities.