Giving Feedback That Works

My supervisor and I were walking across campus after a meeting discussing an issue I was managing in the office.  He didn’t agree with the manner in which I was handling the situation.  He stopped walking and turned to me right in the middle of the campus quad. In a loud voice, he began to explain what he believed I did wrong.  He screamed his explanation in my face in front of students, staff and faculty walking by. It didn’t matter to me that he was providing feedback, it was how he provided that feedback.  It was where he provided it. My heart was racing and I could hear my pulse in my ears. I didn’t respond. Instead, I walked away and sat at my desk processing everything that had just happened. I needed to talk to him about how he addressed me.

Supervision is not a skill you can learn in the classroom or reading a book. Much of what you learn about supervision is likely from the experiences you have had with those who did not supervise you well.  On that day, I learned how not to provide feedback, how to consider the location, manner of delivery and the person receiving the feedback.  Though an unfortunate experience, I have used this situation to help me give feedback to my supervisors.

I follow the following four guidelines when I have to speak to my supervisor or those I supervise about feedback:

Learn how to ask questions appropriately

The manner in which you ask a question will dictate the response.  Refrain from beginning with the word “why”.  Most often when we ask questions about why a decision was made, it is because we want to gain a better understanding of the actual decision making process. Instead, ask, “Could you help me to understand the decision to (fill in the blank)?”

Stay calm and keep your emotions in check

If had gone to my then supervisor right after he had yelled at me in the quad, while emotionally charged, I would not have used my best voice. It was important to me that he understood how his message was received. Instead, the next day I sent him an email requesting a follow-up meeting about the feedback he provided me.

Make a list

In this situation, I didn’t want to forget anything I wanted to go over with my supervisor, so I made a succinct, bulleted list to bring to the meeting. This list kept me on task and actually also helped me to be able communicate my thoughts and feelings as clearly as possible. My goal of the meeting was to understand his perspective better, but it was also important to me that he understood how that experience made me feel and how it affected our supervisory relationship.

Be Receptive to Feedback

As you provide feedback, it is important to consider that you may also receive some feedback. Listen to feedback with an open mind and try not to get defensive. It’s never easy receiving feedback, but it is important to take in the information and think about how you might use this newfound knowledge to improve your work. We are all growing and evolving every day.

The skill of giving feedback is incredibly important when creating a team culture. According to Officevibe, 40% of employees are actively disengaged when they don’t receive much, or any, feedback. Learning to share this information in a positive way with your supervisor and those you supervise will make a huge difference in how your team handles any situation.

Marisol Bazile is the Manager of Students and Diversity at NYU Long Island School of Medicine. When she isn’t supporting and advocating for her students, she is using her skills in student affairs to parent her two daughters with her husband Pierre.

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