4 Tips for Delivering Feedback
Giving feedback is a critical skill when you’re a leader on campus. Feedback can help us improve working relationships: When we can ask for what we need and our campus partners can too, we can learn best how to collaborate. Feedback also helps us grow our skills and develop better end results on projects.
There’s no one right way to give feedback. I share a few tips and considerations below, but the bottom line is practice! As I’ve developed my own style and confidence, giving feedback has become more natural. Bolstering this skill will help you in your career on campus and beyond.
1. Be Intentional
Consider timing, location, any nonverbal cues you’re giving off, and what the feedback is and how to say it directly.
Consider your intention: Are you trying to improve a working relationship or trying to change a person? Giving feedback so we can work together is critical; trying to change a person to be more like you is problematic.
Generally, feedback should be given in person. It’s harder to interpret the tone of feedback given in writing. That’s not a rule, though, and people’s preferences matter. I worked with a student who preferred to get feedback by email and shared with me that because of her learning disability, it was easier to process that way. Respect the ways your colleagues operate.
2. Be Specific
Be specific and use “I” statements: “I’m feeling a little stressed that I haven’t gotten the report from you by last week’s deadline. I’m worried I won’t have enough time to review it.” This is helpful feedback. “You are being too slow” is not.
3. Consider Unconscious Bias
Think about the social power dynamics at play — race, gender, ability, and age to name a few. Course evaluations, for example, are known to be biased against people of color and women and show why we need to be self-reflective before giving feedback to someone.
Check out AAUW’s Implicit Association Test to check your own biases against women leaders. We are all swimming in biased messages in our culture; use the results to help you identify areas for growth and check any unconscious biases you’re holding.
4. Consider the Power Dynamics
Ideally, we’d all be able to share feedback freely, but the reality is we are subject to campus hierarchies that have consequences when we’re perceived as out of line.
When I deliver feedback to a student, I work hard to show that I respect their autonomy and value their feedback. If I’m delivering feedback to a dean or other high-ranking colleague, I think about whether that person will perceive me as being inappropriate (which isn’t necessarily right, but often it’s necessary for workplace survival and managing relationships to think about these hierarchies).
When you’re the one in a position of power, take responsibility for cultivating an environment where people are able to share feedback. Value it when people are willing to give you this feedback. Let your defenses down, and keep your mind open. Feedback is a gift that can help you grow as a person!
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This post was written by NCCWSL steering committee member Stephanie Baker.