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by B.J. Rogers

Whether you’re brand new to supervising, or have been at it for years, no good manager can afford to be without essential tools to do their job well. That’s why we love sharing skills we think rise to the top – and that’ll make your life and the lives of your colleagues better. Want to be the best “boss” you can be? Start here and you’re on your way!

Giving Compassionate and Useful Feedback

Ever had the experience of a sudden panic when your boss says “Hey Sam, can you stop by my office? We need to talk for a minute.”

First, you’re thinking – wait… my name’s not Sam!

But then the overactive mind starts whirring and we begin mentally rummaging for what we’ve done wrong, what might warrant a “talk,”or how we’ll pay the bills if this talk is THE talk.

That this might sound familiar is indicative of the human brain’s tendency to retain negative experiences; and that, for many of us, FEEDBACK = BAD NEWS. So much so that even a great employee can be sent into a momentary job-security-panic-spiral at the mention of “a talk.”

Whatever the origin – an imbalance of negative/positive feedback, a shortage of well-delivered feedback, or a sense of job insecurity, that association is powerful and counter-productive. As a manager of people, prioritizing effective communication and creating a culture that cherishes feedback is good practice and good business. Cherish, you say? Yes – a culture that yearns for and relies on feedback for its highest purpose – to grow and get better.

The good news? It’s not magic. It’s not always easy, but it’s no mystery either.

Think cats… with a K.

Practice these things and you’ll build better relationships and get better results. Feedback should always be:

Kind

Whether laudatory or corrective, if it’s not kind, then it’s not useful (and unlikely to be well-received). Caring about your staff as people – and their knowing and believing that you care – matters. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking with interest how a weekend was, how the kids are, or what’s new in general. When a context of caring is well-established, the context for receiving feedback is altogether different.

NOTE: Don’t confuse caring with soft-pedalling or talking around an issue; that’s not caring about them. It’s caring about the discomfort and guilt YOU risk feeling when someone is disappointed or upset by your feedback.

Actionable

If it’s not useful – if I can’t DO something about it – then it’s just noise. Just critical. Just meaningless. To be worth the effort, feedback (good and bad), should be instructive. I should know what I can or should keep or stop doing to grow and improve. If I can’t act on it, then I’m more likely to shrug it off as a platitude or file it in my shame vault. Neither of those help me grow or make me better.

Timely

Ever endured a litany of “observations” (read: complaints, criticisms, frustrations) that date back weeks or months? Ever felt instantly overwhelmed or defensive? In order to be actionable (and kind for that matter), feedback must be delivered within reasonable proximity to the original behavior. BEST case, feedback is delivered in real-time. Perhaps more realistically, at least within the same day or couple of days so that the behavior, impact, and potential for change or reinforcement still exists.

Specific

When was the last time you heard “Great job!” from a boss? Felt nice, right? How long did that feeling last? What did you do – or do differently, or keep doing – as a result of that “feedback?” The more specific feedback is, the more likely it is to be heard (and the more actionable it becomes). This goes for both “developmental” and “appreciative” feedback. In order to be specific, it must be rooted in BEHAVIOR. Naming what someone did makes it possible for them to know what they should keep or stop doing.

When delivering feedback, don’t just speak off-the-cuff. Be thoughtful; think first, speak second. And if you’re kind, action-oriented, timely, and specific, I promise the results you’re after are more likely to materialize.

Download a PDF of this quick cheat sheet to help you remember KATS with a K! 

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