My mum used to say to me ‘There is a time and a place for everything’. This was her way of telling me I’d chosen the wrong time or place for whatever I’d just done. But she didn’t always tell me when the right time and place was (if any) so I was left guessing or deducing that from repeat offences.
Feedback in the workplace is often like that. You might not get told until it’s too late, you might never get told at all and you may get told what’s wrong but not what’s right.
But my mum’s adage is a sound reminder of two key tenets of feedback. That of time and place.
Some feedback doesn’t get given at all because the giver is worried about the giving. ‘Will this make them dislike me?’,’ Will this cause an argument?’, ‘Maybe they worked it out themselves’ and other such concerns that delay feedback at best and stop it at worst.
So when it comes to time, late feedback is better than none but timeliness makes the feedback more useful. Feedback on the spot is often just a symptom of annoyance. Irritation and lack of thought will come across in immediate feedback. Feedback within a couple of days is feedback. Think about it, structure it, make sure it’s clear, specific and unemotional and ask if you can give it and the receiver is more likely to value what you are presenting.
Add the element of place and the benefit of feedback is improved. Never in a busy corridor or open environment. Never in front of other people (that comes across as point-scoring). Don’t summon them to your office (that’s a power play). Don’t email them out of the blue (it’s not permissive), don’t email your boss and colleagues to tell them first (that’s setting up a whole environment of self-justification or damaging someone’s reputation). Keep it just between the two of you.
Try and find a neutral location, with plenty of time (don’t keep looking at your watch), quiet surroundings (no distractions) and go through your well thought out unemotional feedback. Then listen to what they have to say. You’ve set up the time and the place and they get to take the opportunity too.
They may not agree, and you may actually find that you were working through your own lenses and perceptions a little, but if done well the relationship you have should be improved by the time and place for good feedback being adhered to.