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3 Useful Frameworks for Giving Feedback

Many of us find it uncomfortable to provide critical feedback. Sometimes it’s out of a desire to avoid conflict - we fear how the individual receiving the feedback might respond or we feel bad sharing negative reflections. Perhaps we operate in a larger cultural context in which critical feedback is considered undesirable, a personal affront.

Yet one of the key objectives of giving others critical feedback is to help them grow as individuals and professionals. Constructive criticism, shared appropriately, can be a caring investment in someone’s future even as it asks us to step out of our comfort zones.

For an organization to operate at its full potential, a regular flow of feedback is essential, although the framework in which the feedback is delivered can vary. Providing feedback within a shared framework can also help the receiver take in the information. It is natural for one’s defenses to go up when receiving feedback, making it difficult to listen to and process the information. When the recipient of the feedback recognizes that the provider cares and that the feedback can accelerate growth, it’s easier to accept and internalize.

Here are three frameworks that promote giving feedback in an effective way.

“Radical Candor” means to “say what you think.” It’s not about feeling good; it’s about helping people grow and develop through an approach of being direct, honest, and empathic. It depersonalizes feedback by focusing on people’s behavior and opportunities rather than “judging” people.

Radical Candor occurs when you Care Personally and Challenge Directly.

The feedback matrix of the Radical Candor Model is a balance of Caring Personally, or being kind in your delivery, and Challenging Directly, or offering specific and useful information. According to Candor, the organization that developed this model, when feedback is not given with Radical Candor, the following problems occur instead.

  • Obnoxious Aggression™ is what happens when you challenge but don’t care.

  • Ruinous Empathy™ is what happens when you care but don’t challenge.

  • Manipulative Insincerity™ is what happens when you neither care nor challenge.

Four possibilities in the Radical Candor Feedback Matrix.

What does feedback look like in each of these approaches? Let’s take the scenario of a manager confronting a colleague named James who consistently arrives an hour late to work.

  • Obnoxious Aggression: “James, you’re late to work every day. I’m gonna make some extra money renting out your desk.”

  • Ruinous Empathy: Manager is too timid to challenge James directly even though his behavior upsets her. One morning six months later she fires James on the spot.

  • Manipulative Insincerity: Manager comments to James that arriving late is not a problem although it really does bother her. She then proceeds to give him additional tasks to manage.

  • Radical Candor: After one week of this behavior, manager calls James into her office.

Manager: “James, I’ve noticed that you consistently arrive an hour late to work. Is there a reason this is happening?”

James: “Well, I’ve been going to bed really late because I’ve been up on Facebook trying to get the word out about my indie movie side project.”

Manager: “I see. Well, your creativity and drive is part of the reason we hired you at the agency. But you arriving an hour late sends a message to me that you’re not taking this role seriously and sets a poor example to your colleagues. Let’s brainstorm now how you can manage your side projects with your obligations in your role here. If we can’t come up with an acceptable solution for both of us, then I think you and this job are not the right fit.”

The manager is radically candid with James about his suitability for the organization even though she might bemoan the idea of having to hire a new person for the position.

Framework #2. “Guidance” more than “Feedback”

“To spark movement in a new direction, you need to provide crystal-clear guidance.” -- Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

Feedback has a backward kind of motion: it reflects on what happened in the past. What were the mistakes, which balls were dropped, what challenges were neglected? Feedback addresses what did and did not go well. It informs someone else what actions to repeat or what to avoid doing again in the future.

Guidance, on the other hand, is about looking forward and brainstorming ideas for how to modify behavior. Guidance should include the specific behavior the manager would like to see. It can take the form of suggestions that a manager offers or, even better, open-ended questions which encourage the individual to find her own new ways to address less than optimal behavior or outcomes. Then the manager can help the individual enhance those ideas. This method encourages an employee to have ownership over her development now and in the future and increases the likelihood she will follow through on the actions.

This approach uses feedback to help an individual understand the need for a change in behavior, and offers guidance to help a person grow and develop.

General Electric (GE) put an end to its infamous annual performance reviews in favor of ongoing, real-time feedback. GE introduced a new feedback framework to focus on behavioral change instead of the traditional “strength” and “weakness” paradigm. The new approach categorizes feedback as “continue,” or to keep repeating a certain behavior, and  “consider,” or to think about changing something. Both approaches come from the world of coaching. Similar to the guidance vs. feedback framework, this distinction helps employees focus on forward-looking, action-oriented changes and casts feedback in a positive light.

GE also enhanced this feedback process through a newly developed app called “PD@GE” for “performance development at GE.” Using the app, employees can give or request feedback any time in real time. By simplifying feedback into these two categories and making giving feedback a regular, ongoing activity, GE has experienced a positive cultural change in performance development.

Building a culture of giving and receiving feedback with your team

Feedback is essential to personal and professional growth. It’s easier to give and receive effective feedback when everyone shares an understanding of how it’s done. Choose the feedback framework that best fits your organization, and get your team on board. Here are some ways to make this happen:

  • Share this article with colleagues to create awareness Start by helping colleagues understand what feedback frameworks are available. Then decide together which approach would work best for your team and give it a try.

  • Leverage the chosen model to give structure and confidence to organizational feedback  Use the shared language of a feedback framework. Say, “Now that we’re using Radical Candor, I want to share …” Or, “Based on our new feedback approach of continue and consider, I think you should continue… and consider…”

  • Role model the behavior Role model how to give feedback using your selected approach so it becomes familiar to your colleagues. Ask them for feedback on your own performance to encourage a culture of giving and receiving feedback.

Feedback is a critical part of developing yourself and others. Like any skill, it takes time and practice to become effective at delivering and receiving it. Experiment with these three frameworks for giving feedback until you find one that works for you and your team.

Does your workplace use a specific framework for providing feedback? Which one? Would you consider transitioning to a new method? Let us know.

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