People want feedback at work. According to a PwC survey, 75% believe that it’s valuable and 60% want feedback weekly or even daily.
Yet Columbia University neuroscientist Kevin Ochsner found that people apply the feedback they receive only 30% of the time.
This contrast reflects a stark reality that many safety managers recognize.
Without trust, effective communication and psychological safety, sharing feedback with your team probably won’t lead to improvement. And perhaps more importantly, workers may not be inclined to give you the feedback you need to advocate for system safety at the organizational level.
So, what can you do to better connect with team members, deliver constructive criticism and get results? Here are 10 approaches that will make your messages easier to deliver, hear and apply.
1. Build Relationships First
Are you more likely to listen to a stranger or someone whose opinion you value? Society President Brad Giles, P.E., CSP, STS, FASSP, GIOSH, offers this advice for building relationships:
- Get to know your workers. Ask about families, loved ones and interests outside of work.
- Ask instead of tell. Be humble and curious.
- Foster open communication. Admit you don’t have all the answers.
2. Give Your Intention Some Attention
Business and life coach Gina Gomez offers this easy-to-remember advice for sharing feedback: Give your intention some attention.
“Think about why you feel the need to share the criticism. If it's truly to help someone improve performance, approach it from a place of how you would want the information communicated to you.”
If your intention is to help someone work safer, communicate that with empathy and a focus on what (family, values, colleagues) motivates them to change.
3. Assess Your Bias
As you evaluate your intention, you should also assess your bias, says Massella Dukuly. She's the director of learning and development at LifeLabs Learning, where she teaches people how to give better feedback.
Ensure your feedback is not rooted in assumptions based on what you think you know about someone’s education level, class, ability, age, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religion or other identity. Remember, everyone has biases. Being aware of them is key to nurturing a culture of safety, equity and inclusion.
4. Be Clear and Specific
The Management Library’s top advice on giving feedback is to be clear about what you want to say in advance — and specific.
Managers often say too much, especially when they’re nervous, and drown out the real message with extra words. In addition to addressing a worker’s core motivations when giving feedback, don’t forget to share:
- What you observed
- What you want to see instead
- How they can address the issue
5. Avoid Getting Personal
As you consider how you will deliver important feedback, think about the exact words you want to use.
Liane Davey, author of "The Good Fight: Use Productive Conflict to Get Your Team and Organization Back on Track," offers this trick: Talk in nouns and verbs and eliminate adjectives, which are slippery. Skipping adjectives helps you avoid generalizations (“You always have the same bad attitude”) and subjective evaluations based on feelings (“It’s really frustrating how sloppy you’re getting”).
6. Maintain Professional Integrity
“Professional integrity refers to one’s ability to live in accordance with the moral and ethical principles valued within one’s profession,” writes safety and health consultant Cory Grimmer, CSP, CHST, in Professional Safety.
Integrity helps safety leaders avoid two common mistakes:
- Taking an aggressive, discipline-first approach to noncompliance
- Taking an exclusively negative approach to sharing feedback with workers
“Managers who believe they are making a cultural difference by addressing noncompliance in this manner are disillusioned. Not only is this ineffective, but it also may be critically damaging.”
7. Try: The Situation, Behavior, Impact Method
Developed by the Center for Creative Leadership, the Situation, Behavior, Impact (SBI) Method follows a simple three-step format:
- Describe the situation that occurred.
- Describe the observable behavior or actions.
- Describe the impact or the result of the behavior.
Then, ask the worker about their intent rather than making assumptions. Draw attention to any gaps between intent and impact.
8. Try: The Pendleton Method
The Pendleton Method is a five-step process for a constructive conversation. It involves coaching and is better suited to situations in which feedback is broad.
- Ask for input by saying, “In your opinion, what went well?"
- Share feedback around strengths. If you agree with a team member’s assessment, let them know. Share other areas where they excel.
- Ask what they could improve or do differently next time. Give them time to respond, but don’t let them skip this step.
- Share feedback around what they could do differently. Be as specific and practical as possible.
- Together, agree on an action plan. This ensures you are aligned around the next steps.
9. Avoid: The Sandwich Method
Although this feedback method — where you deliver negative feedback sandwiched between two pieces of positive feedback — has been popular for a long time, recent research has proven it ineffective.
Many people still use it because they think it’s easier for people to hear negative feedback when it’s attached to positive feedback. But in reality, it confuses people, waters down your message and increases anxiety.
10. Empower Others
If you want workers to value workplace safety and contribute to continuous improvement, feedback must be a two-way street. Successful leaders create environments where people are encouraged to speak up and share their ideas.
In fact, both the ISO 45001 and ANSI/ASSP Z10 consensus safety and health management system standards stress the importance of team consultation and participation.
“Empathic listening is key to diagnosing a situation from the participant’s perspective before promoting change for continuous improvement,” writes E. Scott Geller, Ph.D., cofounder of Safety Performance Solutions Inc., in Professional Safety. “It requires patience.”
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