Feedback: Getting the Right Fit

As a supervisor, have you ever given well-intended feedback to your direct reports and been met with confusion or resistance? If so, wires might have gotten crossed between the kind of feedback they wanted and the feedback you provided.

In their book, Thanks for the Feedback, Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen identify three types of feedback. Appreciation acknowledges and thanks employees, builds connection, and motivates. At its best, appreciation is authentic and specific. It might sound something like, “I really appreciate that you included your peers on this decision. As a result, they felt included, and together you produced an innovative solution.”

Coaching helps employees build skills, expand knowledge, and learn. A manager might offer coaching feedback in the form of guidance or thoughtful questions. For example, “If you take this approach, what risks and benefits might you encounter?”

A third form of feedback is evaluation, which is intended to let employees know where they stand, align expectations, and impact future decision-making. When a sales manager tells her sales rep, “You’re within 10 percent of reaching your quota,” she’s offering evaluation.

Employees need all three forms of feedback, and it’s important to provide the right type for the given situation. Employees will likely feel disappointed or frustrated if they are hoping for one type of feedback but receive another. If a new personal banker is looking for guidance on how to develop more customized options for clients, he wants coaching. If his manager instead says, “You’re right on track with where we need to be in this stage of your training,” this evaluation feedback won’t help him develop. Nor will appreciation feedback. Stone and Heen suggest managers consider the following questions before offering feedback.

– What’s my purpose in giving this feedback?

– From my perspective, what is the most helpful form of feedback?

– From my employee’s perspective, what is the most helpful form of feedback?

Using all three forms of feedback, and doing so appropriately, can make all the difference in how employees receive and act on feedback.