Giving Feedback

Feedback is important. Feedback is information flowing between people. It’s about past behaviour, delivered in the present, and intended to influence future behaviour. Feedback should be guided by two overriding principles:

  • respect for the individual as a child of God
  • a common desire to strive for the best we can be for the church/diocese/God

Regular feedback

Constantly provide feedback. Clergy will often overlook minor difficulties and indiscretions in an effort to maintain good relations with the employee and because they feel awkward offering criticism. No employee is perfect and no work relationship is perfect, and so it’s vital to share observations and concerns on an ongoing basis. This is especially important at the beginning of the work arrangement when the employee will be learning new duties and will require clarification of the incumbent’s expectations.

Be proactive

In a work relationship, silence is not golden. Never assume your staff are confident they’re doing a good job or know what you expect. What may seem obvious to you can be obscure or unknown to others who don’t have access to the same information. No feedback can be just as damaging as constant negative feedback. Focus on the positive skills and abilities and let it be known how much you appreciate them.

Good feedback has the following characteristics:

Specific: Be specific and clear about the behaviour that led to the feedback. Avoid vague words like timely, reasonable, approximately, desirable…

Non-judgmental: Use tact when having to make negative statements. “You are perceived as not managing your time well when…” is better than “You are lazy.” Use feelings, thoughts and perceptions to state how the employee’s behaviour prevented good performance. “I feel some frustration and concern when you’re persistently late for meetings because your input is valuable, and yet the rest of the group has to wait for you.”

Constructive: Outline what happened (a problem or error) and why it shouldn’t happen, and then offer an alternative solution (solve the problem, suggest better work habits). The employee may be more open to constructive suggestions if positive aspects of the work or behaviour are recognized and a helpful approach is offered.

Honest: Don’t avoid issues that must be faced. State clearly and accurately what you or the assessors perceive. Stay with the subject. Be encouraging, include the positives. Show respect for the other’s feelings.

Relevant and credible: Don’t be too negative. Beware of the single-event evaluation. Look instead for patterns of behaviour that recur over time. Focus on relevant behaviours that impede effective performance. It may be irritating when the bookkeeper wears a track suit, but if they don’t have contact with the public and always produce splendid financial statements, dress may not be an appropriate criterion for performance. Also, deal with behaviour which the receiver can do something about. Be solution-oriented.

Prompt: Give positive and negative feedback immediately and address issues as soon as possible. Don’t wait for the periodic (annual) performance appraisal.

Understood: Check to make sure the employee understands what you’re trying to get across. Have them articulate the issues.