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Career Coaches Offer Strategies for Improving Feedback in the Workplace

S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
Apr 27, 2023

Managers can create a culture of fearless and frequent feedback with several strategies, the co-founders of career coaching company Amazing If wrote in the Harvard Business Review.

Writing that the flow of feedback can become forced, formal, and infrequent, Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis identified five common feedback flaws: focus, formality, fear, frequency and framing. In their lexicon, focus refers to the lack of a shared understanding of what feedback is and why it matters; formality indicates the mechanical box-checking aspect of periodic reviews, which employees find onerous; fear gets in the way of productive conversations; frequency refers to missed opportunities for managers to provide real-time feedback; and framing describes feedback that is ad hoc and disconnected from people's priorities.

“To overcome these challenges, managers can take the lead on creating a shared understanding of what feedback is for, increasing the speed and ease of feedback, and unlocking difficult conversations through the art of asking,” they wrote.

By involving their teams in creating a memorable description of feedback that feels fit for the team, managers can create a shared understanding about feedback by prompting a discussion with questions such as what feedback means, how it feels when effective, and when it feels forced.  Such questions can yield definitions such as actionable insight, data for one’s development, perspectives to help people be at their best, information that enables improvement, and ideas to help growth.

Managers can also make it quicker and easier for people to give insights to each other. That could entail encouraging team members to expand on moments of praise by adding “because” to their response or reframing critical feedback by using an “idea-for-improvement” question, such as asking ways to help an employee do his or her job better, improve the team’s way of thinking, or changing a source of frustration.

“Challenge-and-build” meetings are an opportunity for anyone on a team to receive feedback on an idea or project they’re working on, they wrote. These meetings offer opportunities “to practice feedback and share their perspective in a way that feels safe, with the emphasis on a project or idea rather than a person.” Questions could include those about ideas’ prospects and potential failures, and how a competitor might approach solving this problem.

The authors also exhort managers to improve the art of asking. By focusing on asking rather than telling, “particularly in difficult discussions about people’s development, … it transforms the dynamic of difficult conversations,” they wrote.

Questions could be about how a meeting went, the experience of working with a certain person, or a worker's progress in improving skills. Follow-up questions could concern learning from someone who has that skill, the pace at which that skill could be developed, and what one could do differently next time.

“When managers address the factors that get in the way of feedback, they help individuals improve and teams work better together,” the authors concluded. “Reducing feedback fear and increasing feedback frequency is beneficial for everyone and will support people to be at their best.”