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  • Grace Montero

Best Practices When Delivering Feedback: Ways to check your own biases before giving and receiving feedback in the workplace

Grace Montero

Associate Consultant

July 18, 2022 

 

Since the “Great Recession” of 2021, many people currently find themselves in new roles, with new colleagues and new supervisors. No matter where you are within an organization, you will likely need to develop skills related to giving and receiving feedback. Research over the years has continued to better inform the ways we think about sharing feedback with others in the workplace and it has also shed light on new tools we can use to help ensure it is received better.

 

One of the most common approaches is the Sandwich or Hamburger method when it comes to providing feedback. The concept in this method is to share your constructive criticism in between two pieces of positive feedback (i.e. a metaphorical top and bottom bun). While many people use this widely used approach for delivering feedback, some critics of the Sandwich method say that it dilutes the message when you are attempting to highlight the shortcoming of another person while also complimenting other strengths. They believe the messaging can get muddled when you are attempting to provide important feedback.

 

However, there are techniques that can be implemented to help ensure you are providing feedback to another person successfully. One key point is to first make sure that the recipient is fully in a position to receive your feedback. To do this, you must take into account the setting you are in to determine an appropriate time to ask. Start by reading the room and simply asking the recipient if and when they might be interested in hearing some of your feedback. When you ask, be prepared for the recipient to say that now is not a good time. In this case, be flexible and open to scheduling a time later. Then be sure to follow through, so that your recipient has a chance to put other matters aside and be more prepared to be fully present and engaged in hearing your feedback.

 

In recent years, we have learned about the ways that unconscious and conscious bias inform the way we navigate our day-to-day lives. We all have biases because our brains want to seek out ways of categorizing our experiences and daily situations to better understand and judge what we may encounter. However, it becomes harmful to have unchecked biases in the workplace because it can cause us to inaccurately and unfairly judge the behaviors of others. Too often, when sharing feedback, we may find our own biases weaving themselves into the conversation. Thus, it is best to acknowledge biases before actively engaging in providing feedback to others. Start by looking inward to reflect on what you’ve experienced in the workplace. For example, you may ask yourself how do you treat and speak to people that look different from you, and people who look the same as you -- are there distinctions you see? If you do discover a bias that could be unintentionally harmful, you can make a commitment to form new habits, as a way to limit that bias from influencing the feedback you intend to give.

 

Below is a brief check-list to consider when you are ready and welcomed to share feedback:

 

Don’t

  • Provide vague criticisms that are not specific to a project or task you observed. This can often lead to confusion if you are unable to provide examples you witnessed.

  • Tell someone exactly how to do the task for them. Instead, suggest an alternative approach and see what their thoughts/comments are about it.  

  • Make broad generalizations about someone with exaggerated language. For ex: “You are always xyz” or “I noticed you never fully xyz”.

Do

  • Start by asking the recipient when is a good time to talk. For ex: “I’m wondering if we can have a quick check-in about xyz?”, or “Do you have 10minutes to debrief xyz?”

  • Develop a clear evaluation structure to abide by in order to help prevent bias from influencing your feedback. If you are supervising staff, be consistent in your approach. 

  • Be specific, by naming exact events that you can refer to when identifying an observed action or behavior. Ask to see if the recipient sees it this way as well, to have an engaging conversation.

  • Use detailed language when sharing feedback, to be more memorable for the recipient. For ex: it is more memorable for a recipient of your feedback to hear “I enjoyed the delivery and pace of the key points in this morning’s presentation” than it is to hear “great presentation.”

  • Avoid making assumptions regarding a specific behavior, and become curious as to what might have caused/informed the actions you saw.

 

In conclusion, aim to give feedback by first bringing awareness to your own biases and determine if it merits adapting your perspective. Then offer it at a time that the recipient agrees to receive it, and have it be a conversation where you can provide constructive feedback and positive reinforcement as needed. By being open to follow-up questions and explaining your rationale with specific details, you are better able to convey to the recipient that you are a supporter of their professional growth. Over time, these techniques can greatly assist you in building trust within your professional relationships.    


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