While people dread giving and receiving feedback, it can be one of the most powerful tools for improving professional performance. Let Michael H. Zaransky walk you through a simple technique for offering feedback that’s effective and actionable.

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Feedback is invaluable in a corporate environment. Feedback makes a difference. It leads to greater efficiency, greater harmony and ultimately greater success.

Yet studies have shown that it is often difficult for people to provide it. One such study was undertaken by Francesca Gino, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. She found that just four of 212 individuals would inform someone with whom they were engaged in conversation that they had a marker’s red smudge on their nose.

Her conclusion? 

“People overestimate the negative consequences of giving feedback for themselves, as well as underestimate the benefits for the other person,” she said in a post on the institution’s website. “This misunderstanding persists even when the feedback giver and receiver know each other well.”

And indeed it is a delicate little dance in which we all engage when it comes to offering constructive criticism. No one wants to be the bearer of bad news. No one wants to jeopardize a relationship. But it can be done. Moreover, it must be done, especially in a business setting.

I’d like to think I’ve reached a point where I can offer feedback in a healthy, productive fashion. That’s because I view myself not as a top-down tyrant but rather as someone who forges relationships.

And indeed we have an experienced, collaborative eight-person corporate team based in our headquarters, in addition to our property managers not only in Illinois but in Tennessee and Texas.

So that’s where it starts — with open, honest relationships featuring constant communication. That way, potentially difficult conversations are somewhat less so. That way, it doesn’t feel like someone is being called to the principal’s office when I critique their work; rather, it is part of the everyday conversation in a long-standing relationship.

My approach to offering such critiques is something that has been described as the “Kiss/Kick/Kiss” method.

That is, you start out by offering some praise and pointing out all the positive things that a particular individual brings to the table, then matter-of-factly raise the issue at hand, and offer constructive criticism: “Perhaps there could have been a different approach,” “This is what I’ve noticed,” etc. Then you finish the conversation with more praise.

I would emphasize that I don’t feel compelled to give constructive criticism on a regular basis. Ours is a smooth-running operation, in my estimation. But certainly there are times when it is necessary to point out where someone might be falling short, and how they can get up to speed.

Such was the case with one of our property managers six years ago. She was energetic and enthusiastic and generally performed at a high level. There was, however, room for improvement as it pertained to following through on prospects and leads for leasing.

When I sat down with her, I discussed how her team had created a great-looking property under her direction. Then I mentioned that we wanted to see a follow-up on prospects that is quicker and continuous, which results in more leases and perhaps a higher lease-conversion ratio.

Then I defaulted back to how great her interpersonal skills were and the positive feedback we’d been getting about her face-to-face dealings with prospects, when they came to the property.

Again: Kiss/kick/kiss

The conversation had the desired effect, as she shored up that lone shortcoming in her day-to-day performance.

Others have mentioned how important it is to offer feedback face to face, as things can be lost in translation when it is offered via phone, text message or platforms like Zoom, Skype and Facetime. I wholeheartedly agree, though I don’t believe my ability to make such points was greatly compromised during the pandemic, when face-to-face communication was impossible.

Still others point out how important it is for a leader to be specific in discussing where improvement needs to be made, so there is no confusion, and how it is no less crucial to act as soon as possible, so a small problem does not fester and become a bigger one.

Moreover, a leader must make sure there is a dialogue, not a one-way conversation, as the employee in question might provide critical context about a given problem. Perhaps something is going on, inside or outside the workplace, that escaped the leader’s notice. Perhaps other factors have come into play.

The bottom line

Offering feedback cannot, and should not, be a negative interaction. As noted in a recent post at Business News Daily:

You often get back the energy you give, and a negative attitude often produces unproductive responses. If you remain encouraging toward your team members, your feedback is more likely to stick.

Entrepreneur Michel Koopman put it another way, in a Forbes post. He emphasized that leaders need not be friends with their reports, but would do well to at least be friendly – that those atop the org chart should work to earn the respect and trust of those beneath them. As he put it, leadership is difficult, as it “requires both a heart and a brain.”

Couldn’t agree more. And that particularly comes into play when it is necessary to offer constructive criticism.

Michael H. Zaransky is the founder and managing principal of MZ Capital Partners in Northbrook, Illinois. Founded in 2005, the company deals in multifamily properties.

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