Misinterpreting Feedback

The magic word that helps make feedback easier and creates the best setting for giving difficult feedback is Rapport. If you have good rapport with the person you need to give feedback to, this makes the whole process much less painful.

So let's look at why sometimes people misinterpret feedback


People misinterpret feedback for two main reasons

1- The language used. You need to deliver your feedback using language that suits your team member’s patterns of thinking, speaking, and acting rather than your own.

For example, for someone who thinks in pictures, tell him/her: ‘You’ll have seen that every time you type something its full of spelling mistakes. I would like you to look through your work more closely, view the layout and spellings and show more attention to detail.’


2-Lack of evidence in your feedback. You must provide meaningful evidence of what exactly went wrong, – what you saw and heard and how you want a piece of work or a particular behavior to look and sound in the future. Being specific is very important when giving feedback and to Communicate assertively

For example, ‘I am concerned about your level of service. I hear you speak loudly to customers over the phone and slam the phone down abruptly. I want to hear you using empathic words and a warm voice tone with customers in the future.


Before giving feedback to anyone, you need to specifically write down answers to the following two questions


1- What happened that confirms this behavior needs changing? What do you see and hear in the other person’s behavior that tells you something isn’t good enough? For example, you see this person arriving late for work every morning, and hear the same excuses about traffic.


2-After changes are made, how can i evaluate that these changes are effective and the situation now is good enough? What do you need to see and hear to indicate that the person has made the necessary change? In the example, you’ll see this person at her desk and ready to work at the expected time, just like the rest of the team. Consider the following feedback example:  " You need to be more confident in front of customers, Jane." By contrast, an alternative version of the same feedback can take into account the two preceding questions and add supporting details and examples: " Jane, I want to see you smile at clients more and speak up in client meetings, particularly to tell them about the positive aspects of our product. When clients complain, you need to apologise for any problems they’ve experienced and assure them that you’re going to resolve their issues. When they ask questions, you can actually reinforce your client relationships if you answer their questions, rather than deferring the questions to me."


Ensuring your feedback makes a difference

1- Providing evidence and being specific


Vagueness creates questions Example : You provide excellent service. • What kind of service?
• What does the person do?


Specificity provides answers Example: You respond to customers’ e-mails within the same day and provide complete answers to their questions. 

Always remember these two rules, first to give proper feedback you need specific evidence and second the best evidence comes from behaviour (what the person says and does), it doesnt' matter if you are trying to get someone to change a belief or gain a new skill or just do things differently these rules apply.

For example, all the following bits of feedback lack adequate evidence:

   "You need to be more confident in front of clients."
   "You aren’t assertive enough in meetings."
   "You need to be more proactive."
   " You have to manage the team better."

When you are ready to give feedback, make sure you write down notes of specific evidence you noticed to support your feedback and make it specific plus the specific changes you want to see or hear.

For example  ‘What people need to see is . . . ’ and ‘What I want to hear when you’re doing this differently is . . . ’


2- Give the Feedback in a sandwich and be aware of the "BUT"

If you have to give someone difficult feedback, you may well like to sandwich the tough information between the good things you want him to hear too. So you may start with something positive, move on to the more negative comments,and then wrap up by talking about something else he’s doing well.

Be very careful when you present good, bad, and then good news. In particular, one small, powerful word can undo all your good work in providing the positive feedback – the word but. But plays interesting tricks on the mind. When people hear but, they hear and remember what you say after the but much more clearly than what you say before the but.

For example, you tell your employee:

"John, you ran the scheduling meetings really well in January and February, but in March you allowed everyone to discuss each point, so the schedule didn’t get agreed."

Most likely, John's attention focuses wholly on his shortfalls in the March meeting, not on how well he did in January and February. He may become defensive, accusatory, and just shut down – all reactions that minimise the effectiveness of your feedback and the rest of the meeting.

By contrast, consider what John may remember when you present the same general feedback, without the but:

"John, you ran the scheduling meetings really well in January and February, and in March you allowed everyone to discuss each point, so the schedule didn’t get agreed." The only difference in the preceding example is that and replaces but. John is much more likely to notice the two pieces of feedback equally. The information feels balanced and is likely to lead to a very different – and probably proactive – reaction from John.


3- Focus on behavior and not personality

At work, any changes or improvements that need to happen are ultimately changes to behaviour. Yet sometimes feedback given is more about a person’s identity than their behaviour.


Personality statements are generally judgments (positive and negative) about a person.

Example : Personality Statements : You are a nice person , You are lazy
Behavior statements describe how a person is acting.
Example  : Behavior Statement: You make a point of saying hello to everyone every day.


For more on conflict resolution, check out our Conflict Resolution instant download training material package.