Meaningful Feedback

BY Caitlin Roark // HR Director

Empowering conversation to drive action

We’ve all been there. On one side of the table, ready to offer pearls of wisdom in the form of constructive feedback culled from years of experience, scenario planning, and “getting it.” You knew it could be a tough conversation, but you made your points, the other person was receptive, and you felt everyone was on the same page. 

Fast forward to a week later, and a similar (or gasp – the same!) mistake was made. Frustration sets in. The feedback was so clear in your mind, but it turns out – it wasn’t.

It is easy to blame the other person for not asking good questions or not clarifying if anything you said was confusing. However, if unclear expectations are happening with one person, they are likely happening with others. Now is the time to step back and rate your feedback.

Each person’s account of a conversation is going to be different based on what they said, heard, and remembered. We can gather supporting evidence before the conversation with utmost confidence, but in reality – we may say different words that alter our meaning while our body language and tone further distort our intention. What we hear will subsequently be colored by our past experiences and assumptions. Add in a world of multitasking with constant interruptions, and each person is going to remember something different. 

So, what can we do? Give up and correct the mistake, or worse yet – stop delegating or collaborating with others on future projects? That will only work if you want to stay in the exact same place you are today. 

To inspire real change, feedback must be meaningful.

First, focus on the message. What led you to this conversation? How can you correct or improve specific actions? What new perspective can lead to an expanded personal view? If you can’t channel your feedback into a SMART goal, chances are that person may not initiate the action you expect. 

Next think about support. Each person has different support needs – and that spectrum lives on a continuum based on many factors including workload, initiative, and that moment’s comfort level. What resources are already available to support change? How can new resources be garnered? What roadblocks can be overcome? How can you channel stress in a positive way? Showing up is very important, but continued encouragement and evaluation is what drives evolution.

Delivery is everything. Don’t confuse direct feedback with being cold or abrasive. Nailing down a brief and pointed message will further the conversation’s focus, but do not overlook the value of kindness. While the conversation should not center around you, personal stories can build relationships through empathy. Use this time to show direct investment in the other person’s growth. If you can answer the question “what’s in it for me?” for your audience, you have won half of the buy-in battle.

With your message, support structure, and delivery in mind, you’re well on your way to an empowering conversation. It starts with gaining trust and building confidence which leads to collective autonomy. Leaders can take an active role in the empowerment journey versus approaching feedback as a means to top-down delegation. 

One-on-one feedback, at best, shares one person’s perspective. Intentional, meaningful feedback has the power to drive action.