“Effective leaders are effective communicators. And part of this skill is the ability to deliver useful feedback. Good feedback benefits both the giver and receiver. It nourishes growth and development. Without it, the leader-as-coach is unable to clarify performance targets, develop skills and abilities, reinforce progress, or build on strengths. Strong, relevant, and useful feedback shows how much leaders care about the growth of people on their team.”

In their book Vitamin C for a Healthy Workplace, Luke De Sadeleer and Joe Sherren offer the following useful tips for giving good feedback:

It is descriptive rather than evaluative. By describing one’s own reaction, it leaves the individual free to use it or not as they see fit. By avoiding evaluative language, the manager reduces the need for the individual to react defensively.

It is specific rather than general. If a manager tells an employee that they are “dominating,” it will probably not be as useful to him or her as to be told that “Just now when we were discussing the issue, you did not listen to what others said and I felt forced to accept your arguments or face attack from you.”

It is directed toward behavior that the receiver can do something about.Frustration is only increased when a person is reminded of some shortcoming over which they have no control.

It is well timed. In general, feedback is most useful at the earliest opportunity after the given behavior. This depends, of course, on the person’s readiness to hear it, along with such variables as support available from others.

It is checked to ensure clear communication. One way of checking for clear communication is to have the receiver try to rephrase the feedback he/she received to see if it corresponds to what the sender had in mind.

It is checked for accuracy. When feedback is given in a training group, both giver and receiver have an opportunity to check, with others in the group, the accuracy of the feedback. Within the group it’s easier to determine if the feedback is only one person’s impression or an impression shared by others.

It takes into account the needs of both the receiver and giver of feedback.Feedback can be destructive when it serves only one’s own needs and fails to consider the needs of the person on the receiving end.

“Empathic (from empathy) listening gets inside another person’s frame of reference. You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, you understand how they feel…you’re listening to understand.”  Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

The ability to ask questions – and listen attentively to the answers – is one of the many factors that differentiate management and leadership. Managers tell. They would rather be wrong than be quiet. Leaders listen. They know that growing and developing people is impossible without listening. Asking and listening are fundamental to leadership. They are learnable skills. Whether we choose to develop them or not depends upon our values. Do we really care about the people we lead? Do we really think they have something useful to say? Are their feelings and issues misguided and petty or do they really matter to us? Are their attitudes something to be adjusted rather than probed for underlying improvement opportunities? Do we believe that customers’ perceptions are to be changed rather than better understood and learned from? Do we often see internal or external partners (such as distributors, other agencies or departments, and suppliers) as whiners who just don’t get it? As Winston Churchill put it, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”