Feedback Loops for Excellent Interpersonal Communication

In a previous post, I posited the seven things you as leader should do for excellent interpersonal communication: create safety, ensure feedback loops are in place, encourage trust in others’ competence, implement stepped decision-making, involve bottom-up, use transformational leadership, and match stated and actual organizational culture. In this post, I delve deeper into the second task: ensure feedback loops are in place - or how to let coworkers know their effort is meaningful, good, or excellent.

What Performance Feedback Is

A team member completes a task, leading to a particular outcome. In an excellent organization, you want that result to be excellent too. Yet if the coworker doesn’t know to what degree their work matches expectations (of the leader, colleagues, organization, or client), they also don’t know how good they are at what they do. It’s about more than only the outcome: how the result was attained in terms of efficiency, effectiveness, and collaboration is equally important. Performance feedback entails it all: information on how and how well a task has been executed. Good performance is good for the organization; it promises quality results in the future.

Performance Feedback Stimulates Mastery

A human being (and by extension, an employee) has another kind of motivation to perform well. The outcome of their work is secondary to fulfilment of their need for connection, autonomy, and mastery. When these three needs are met in the work situation, it leads to job satisfaction. You implement performance feedback loops simply because people want to be good at what they do. This feedback supports a team member’s basic psychological need for mastery.

Performance Feedback Loops: Interpersonal or Process?

Performance feedback loops may be roughly divided into interpersonal loops and process loops. In this blog, I deal only with interpersonal performance feedback, which may further be given at several levels (top-down, horizontally, or bottom-up). All follow similar guidelines in order to be effective.

Avoid Criticism

Criticism isn’t process feedback; it’s about venting your own bad feeling about the other (see a previous post on why criticism has a damaging effect on the working relationship). And because criticism seldom offers any options for improving performance, the coworker cannot really do anything with it.

Nothing Motivates Better than Appropriate Compliments

A job well done deserves a well-meant, short-and-sweet compliment. Compliments are a form of performance feedback and should be given spontaneously, not as something to be checked off your to-do list! Yet, keep positive remarks separate from things you want your coworker to improve (see my post on why to avoid the sandwich technique).

Choose the Moment

There are no strict rules; yet it is best to evaluate individual performance privately and, if possible, stick to one task and one recent execution of that task. Bringing up everything (especially failures) from the past is likely to be counterproductive, as it leaves the other with a feeling of incompetence.

Be Specific

Performance feedback should avoid vague and general descriptions: what part of the result exactly requires adjustment? Be careful to stick to facts, and avoid being judgmental, as that creates an unsafe environment. Remember that any form of feedback seldom has the desired effect when the other doesn’t feel safe (see creating safety).

Ask and Listen

Ask questions so that the other evaluates themself, rather than telling them how they performed. Asking questions also lowers the chance of a defensive reaction (a survival mechanism used when feeling vulnerable).

Stick to Mastery

Performance feedback isn’t about everything. Choose only the tasks which stimulate someone’s need for mastery. Focus on how to do things (even) better rather than on what went wrong. Stick to asking what your team member isn’t entirely satisfied about regarding the task at hand and what is needed to address this. And explore what the other does need to develop mastery beyond present performance.

Ensuring performance feedback loops are in place is an essential step towards enhancing job satisfaction. It helps motivate people to develop themselves from an intrinsic need to get better at what they do. Proper performance feedback loops make the organization appreciative, interesting, and challenging to work for.

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