It’s time to stop giving “blurry” feedback.
“Most people, when they’re giving feedback, might say something blurry like ‘I really liked how helpful you were during that conversation,’” says Tania Luna. She is the co-founder of LifeLabs Learning, a management-training company, and co-author of the book The Leader Lab: Core Skills to Become a Great Manager, Faster. “That doesn’t really help me learn, because what is helpful? What specifically did I do? How can I learn from something if I don’t understand the specific behavior in question?”
Luna’s research shows that the best feedback is specific and designed to help the person receiving it understand what they did well and why it matters. In an interview with Charter she described what that looks like.
When feedback is blurry–vague, either simple praise for a job well done or a request for a better effort in the future, without identifying the actions and steps that made something successful, it doesn’t help people grow. Identifying what you’re giving feedback for is the crucial first step that often gets left out, Luna says.
“[W]hat’s the intention of it? What are the outcomes? Then, what are some of the inputs?” she asks. “[T]he outcome of feedback is being able to allow someone to calibrate, allow teams to calibrate to the same expectations. The most important piece of feedback is to catalyze development, to allow the person through feedback become better or keep being really good at something that they’re doing.”
She refers to the process of crafting specific, actionable, truly excellent feedback as “de-blurring.” Here’s what that looks like.
Start with your initial observation and drill down to figure out the strategies or behaviors you are recognizing as successful. Rather than just telling someone that they were helpful, “A de-blurred version of that might be something like, ‘I really liked how you asked questions during that conversation,’ or ‘I really liked how you provided external context or the history of the organization in that conversation,’” Luna says.
The bigger picture
Providing specific feedback helps to reinforce or improve behavior. Giving those actions context, whether within the organization, on a specific project or team, or for individual career goals, makes people feel more connected. “The second really important piece that so many people miss out on is the link up to why it matters, the impact statement,” says Luna. That might sound like, “I really liked that you asked questions during the conversation. And I mentioned that because I noticed that it allowed us to come to a really creative solution versus feeling stuck with the two solutions we had before.’ Or ‘I really appreciated that you shared the organizational history, because it allowed us to make a better decision quicker without recreating mistakes from the past.’”
Giving good feedback is associated with other crucial skills
Getting really good at giving feedback is one of the most important skills for managers who want to help the people they lead to thrive as teams and individuals. Luna and her team at LifeLabs have spent a lot of time researching what managers need to be effective leaders. Coaching, feedback, and helping your team be as productive as possible are the top three skills that make for great managers, she says. What’s more, being good at them is strongly associated with other important qualities.
“[M]anagers who were really strong at having feedback conversations are also strong in conflict resolution, in negotiating, and even things like interviewing skills, in creating development plans,” she says. Getting better at giving feedback, by being specific and providing context that helps your team understand why they, and their actions, matter, isn’t just a way to help other people grow, it actively makes you an even-better manager.