Feedback is a powerful tool in the communication process. We define the “feedback statement” as the first one or two sentences spoken by the person giving the feedback, which explain to the recipient why the conversation is taking place.
Think of a feedback statement as a first impression. That first impression is difficult to shake, even if further conversation proves it wrong. It’s the same in the feedback situation: whatever we say first sets the tone and influences the recipient’s emotional and behavioral responses.
Feedback statements tend to fall into one of two categories, judgmental and descriptive. Judgmental feedback typically fails to achieve behavioral changes; rather, it puts people on the defensive and causes bad feelings. Descriptive feedback, on the other hand, is significantly more effective in achieving lasting behavioral change.
Here are eight examples of judgmental vs. descriptive feedback statements:
1) “I” vs. “You”
Avoid “You” statements: “You did this. You did not do this.”
Use “I” statements: “I have noticed that you did (or did not) do this.” This statement is a less aggressive opening and establishes a conversational tone.
2) Personality vs. Behavior
Avoid personality statements: “You are lazy.”
Comment on behavior instead: “I noticed that you didn’t get the report done on time.” When you make a statement about behavior, the person will have a difficult time denying it, if it’s true.
3) General vs. Specific
Avoid general statements: “You’re late a lot of the time.”
Use specific statements: “You have been a half an hour late five times in the past three weeks.” Again, if true, this observation is difficult to deny.
4) All-or-nothing vs. Qualifiers
Avoid all-or-nothing statements: “You are always rude to people.”
Instead, use qualifying statements: “I have observed that once in a while you treat customers with disrespect.” Although it’s tough to measure a person’s interactions with others, quantitatively speaking, phrases like this will avoid absolutes.
5) Cause vs. Effect
Avoid cause statements: “You are so lazy that you missed three errors in your report.”
Rather, use effect statements: “The three errors in your report caused us to lose the account.” Descriptive statements focus on the effects rather than causes, which tends to make the recipient more open to the feedback.
6) Solutions vs. Situation
Avoid solution statements: “This happened and was unacceptable. From now on, I want you to do the following.”
To provide more effective feedback, use situation statements: “I was very concerned when this happened, for the following reasons. What is your opinion of the situation?” Describe the situation as you see it and ask the other person to do so from his or her point of view. This increases the likelihood that you’ll be on the same page.
7) Untimely vs. Timely
Avoid untimely statements. “Six months ago, you really screwed up this client account.”
Use timely statements: “We need to talk about yesterday’s client meeting.” The sooner the feedback follows the behavior, the more effective it will be.
8) Control vs. Change
Avoid control statements: “You’ll never get this right!”
Use change statements: “I know that we can work through this situation.” If we believe people can change their behavior, we move into the positive role of coach, mentor, and partner.
Remember that employees need well-crafted, direct, and descriptive feedback on a regular basis. It’s critical for personal growth and, ultimately, for the company’s growth.