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Team Member Feedback: A Priceless Communication Tool

Feedback is such an important communication tool. Openness, honesty, candor, trust -- all of these are hallmarks of high performance teams and organizations. Good feedback skills are essential to any relationship.

Feedback is important because:

- It prevents small issues from festering into unmanageable problems.

- It builds trust in relationships.

- It promotes personal and professional growth.

- It acknowledges individual and team accomplishments.

- It clears up misunderstandings.

- It is a way to acknowledge and recognize team members' skills and contributions.

As a result, effective feedback makes life at work a great deal easier and more rewarding.

So how do you give someone effective feedback? First, ensure your intention is to be helpful and supportive, rather than to "slam." Check to make sure the person wants and is ready to accept feedback, if you haven't been asked to provide it. Before providing your feedback, ask the person for their assessment of the situation.

But, how do you say it? What words do you use that will ensure the message is delivered properly? Be specific. Describe the actual behavior you observed, not personality traits. Avoid generalities, vague statements, and inferences. Use "I" statements: I saw..., I heard..., I felt... Describe the impact of the behavior on you: "I felt...when you..." Be sincere with your comments. Don't say that something was good when you don't really believe it.

It's important to give a balanced mix of both positive feedback and feedback for improvement. Try to end with a positive comment. Be sure that the feedback recipient has understood your comments. Encourage a response.

Another important point. Consider timeliness. Don't "store up" feedback of either kind and dump it on a person. Feedback is much more effective if provided close to the time the behavior actually occurred.

There are two types of feedback -- Positive feedback and feedback for improvement.

Positive Feedback - Positive feedback is information about what someone did well. There's a very simple approach you can use when giving positive feedback.

- Describe what the person actually did or said, and

- Why this statement or action was effective.

Make sure your "What and Why" approach is based on specific, sincere information. For example: "Mary, when you presented the results of the team's customer satisfaction survey, your charts were very clear and easy to understand (what). They made it easy to identify which areas we need to work on to make our customers happier (why).."

Feedback for Improvement - Feedback for improvement is given about situations which did not go well, or which could have been better. In this case, it's important to tell the person specifically what could have been said or done differently, and why that would have been more effective.

The approach to giving feedback for improvement is:

- Describe what was said or done,

- Tell what would have been a better approach, and

- Why that would have been better

Make sure your "What, What and Why" approach is based on specific, sincere information. For example: "George, when you commented on Ted's report, I felt your remarks sounded sarcastic and not specific enough to be helpful (what). If you tell Ted exactly what additional information is necessary (what), he'll be able to incorporate the information you feel is needed when he revises the report (why).."

Receiving Feedback

There's also special skill required when receiving feedback. If you ask for feedback, be sure you are ready to receive it. Actively listen with your full attention. Ask for specific examples of what you did well and what could have been better. Ask questions to clarify, and paraphrase to check your understanding. Don't resist the feedback and avoid being defensive -- don't explain, rationalize or justify. Listen for the impact your behavior is having on the other person. Consider carefully whether, and how you want to change your behavior. Let others know immediately so they can support you. Ask for help and assistance, if appropriate. Most importantly, thank others when they provide you feedback. They have taken a risk to help you grow.

Remember: Feedback is a gift, a unique learning opportunity. Whether you agree or not, it has value because it represents a set of perceptions about you and your behavior.

Denise O'Berry (aka 'Team Doc') provides tools, tips and advice to help organizations build better teams. Find out more at http://www.teambuildingtips.com

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