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Construtive feedback

Constructive feedback and how to give it

Constructive feedback helps staff grow and learn, helping your practice to thrive. Here’s how to avoid awkwardness, promote agency and get your message across. By Angela Tufvesson

Facilitating professional growth, improved performance and a positive team culture are some of the most important leadership goals for practice owners and managers. Communication is the obvious medium to achieve these targets—except it isn’t always as easy as telling someone they’re doing a good job.

In fact, those awkward, not-so-positive chats that address areas for improvement are just as important as verbal pats on the back. Constructive feedback might sound like a euphemism for out-and-out criticism, but when it’s done right it has the potential to transform your management style and give your business a boost.

Putting it off

Let’s be honest: putting off difficult conversations is a common response, even when it’s obvious the issue isn’t going to resolve itself via osmosis. Why? “People are often worried about being perceived as being critical,” says Dr Jesse Green, a dental business coach and practice owner. “Most people who run a practice or are in a position of management or supervision don’t want to be that person who nags, moans and complains about other people.”

But letting problem behaviours and other actions that aren’t in the best interests of the team or patients slide can have a serious impact on the practice. “It can mean subpar performance becomes the norm,” Dr Green says.

Plus, he says, high-performing staff or people who are committed to the cultural norms of the practice can become frustrated if issues aren’t addressed and more difficult to retain.

Nicholas Vayenas, managing director of Liquid HR, which specialises in small businesses, says minor issues can become more troublesome if they’re left to fester. “Constantly sweeping the small things under the carpet ultimately builds up to a point where you see resentment, frustrations and poor relationships,” he says.

Workshopping solutions

Get constructive feedback right, however, and you’re setting your team up for success. “Constructive feedback aims to identify a solution to a perceived area of weakness,” Vayenas says.

“It’s different to negative feedback, which typically focuses on what the person has done wrong without any solution to that problem.”

Dr Green says a culture of constructive feedback helps to drive improved performance. “No-one’s going to thrive or flourish in an overly critical environment, but they will thrive and flourish in an environment that is geared towards personal growth and development.”

Perhaps even more importantly, he says, providing constructive feedback in the context of the core values of the business—for example, integrity, respect and care—helps to build a positive and cohesive culture.

“Having a team that is constantly improving in alignment with the culture means their individual performance improves,” Dr Green says. “Of course, that flows through to the productivity and performance of the practice as a whole. This approach helps you build a team of team players.”

Delivering the goods

So, what’s the most effective and least awkward way to deliver constructive feedback? Dr Green strongly recommends a framework to guide the dialogue. “A framework gives you structure but allows you to have flexibility to manoeuvre within that structure.”

Vayenas agrees, further advising a “very specific and precise” approach to your communication. “Use facts and real-life examples that you’ve observed to explain the problem,” he says. You might describe how a particular pattern of behaviour is an issue for the practice in concrete terms—perhaps it makes patients uncomfortable, increases the workload for other staff or conflicts with your core values.

Dr Green suggests giving the other person an opportunity to share their point of view. “There might be a perfectly reasonable explanation why someone did something that you’re not aware of,” he says. “It’s really important to be a great listener.”

Then, focus on the solution and the outcome you desire. Use positive, actionable language. How would you like the behaviour to change? What time frames might be appropriate? What’s a more efficient way to communicate with patients?

Vayenas says asking the staff member for suggestions can be an effective approach. “Getting their buy-in can help to workshop a solution and help them to feel valued,” he says. “The essence of the conversation should be a focus on how to improve the situation rather than a punitive approach to the problem.”

Preparing for the conversation will also help you achieve the desired outcomes. “Try to avoid having the conversation off the cuff,” Dr Green says. “Think about when and where you’ll have the conversation, as well as what you will say. Do you need to include other people or bring along any documentation? What do you need to help it go smoothly?”

It’s also important to prepare for challenging emotions. “Understand what emotions might be present for the recipient of the conversation so you don’t inadvertently annoy them or cause them to become angry,” Dr Green says. “And equally, if they say anything to you that might annoy or anger you so you can remain calm and composed.”

Ultimately, he says, learning to deliver constructive feedback is like acquiring any other management skill—the more you practise, the better you will become. “This is a skill that every business owner and practice manager needs to develop because there’s plenty of times where you’ll need to have these conversations, and they’re not to be feared.”

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