Saturday, 28 September 2013

Feedback - The Most Important Facet In Communications






I am going to make a bold statement which I am sure many PR and communications experts might contest - feedback is the single most important facet of all effective communications.


 Why?


This is because it is the 'glue' that holds all the components together - not strategy, eloquent oratory, superior content or masterful delivery. While all these things are useful, without feedback, the message has failed and there are consequences for this failure.


As a company, a constant lack of feedback for your customers, clients and other stakeholders would lead to two unfavourable outcomes:  the loss of brand power/loyalty due to reduced patronage; as well as a dent in your reputation, rendering your organisation untrustworthy. 


For a professional, the negative effects of not giving feedback are more evident - you would be deemed ignorant, unreliable and/or incompetent. Such perceptions would stall your professional advancement.



From leadership communications to crisis management, whether it is casual or official, written or verbal, without good feedback, you would not be considered relevant or worse, credible. It goes without saying that if you cannot be trusted, then you cannot succeed in your endeavours.



The role of feedback in a communications strategy was first mentioned in this post and should be considered vital in any professional setting. In other words, feedback must be cultivated.


However, it is not enough to just give feedback; it is crucial to give quality feedback which must have two elements:



1) It must be factual






I am  not advocating  that  you  line  all your communication ducks in perfect symmetry before shooting. What is often the norm is that during a crisis or a major event, there is always the omnipresent cloud of uncertainty and thus incomplete information. Most people would understand that details are bound to be sketchy in such scenarios.


Nevertheless, there would be a frenzied demand for information. Despite the pressure you may feel, (the world may be spinning more erratically at that time), err on the side of caution. Take that extra time to ensure that the information you are giving is factual and can be verified.


A perfect example is this post analysing President Obama's first speech after the Boston bombings on April 15, 2013. The information provided in the speech was clear and factual, despite the absence of many important components at the time the announcement was made.


While you might earn brownie points for being the first to 'break' exciting news or to make a grand announcement, your reputation would take a serious battering if it is later discovered that the information you provided was flawed.


For example, if you hold an important role in public office, or you are a powerhouse in business circles, you could be labelled a 'liar' by critics. They might even insinuate that your faux pas was deliberate and geared towards self-promotion in order to make you good 'look',  to absolve your culpability, or to deny your responsibility in a crisis. Such an unflattering label could linger even after your PR team uses the sugar-coated term of 'misinformation' for your error. Make this blunder more than once and your reputation may be scarred for a long time, adversely affecting your career.


2) It must be timely





In 'Corporateville'timely feedback is crucial in transformational organisational change such as a new management, a merger or an acquisition.



This is tricky because in order to represent the true state of things, you would need your information to be accurate, which corresponds to the first point above, and which is often time-consuming.


However, what should be realised is that timely feedback communicates, above all, that you care enough about people and are committed to addressing their concerns. It does not matter if the information is incomplete, as long as you ensure that your audience is updated as you receive confirmed reports.


A good example is the analysis of Jeff Bezos' first memoAs the founder of Amazon, he forwarded the memo to the Washington Post employees after he bought the media giant for $250 million in August 2013.


The memo was timely and 'real'. He appreciated the need for information and for addressing other concerns, while still admitting that there were grey areas which needed to be worked upon in the future. As a leader, Jeff Bezos demonstrated how timing became crucial in delivering information following an organisational change.




Feedback in business communications

As professionals, we need to re-examine the prevailing culture of non-existent or unduly delayed feedback in virtually every aspect of our careers.


Remember that feedback covers even the simplest things. Therefore, not acknowledging someone's message, email/conversation or any type of communication, is not only bad manners, but gives an impression, whether intentionally or not, that you cannot be concerned about the issue at stake. Communication is a two-way stream and is thus only guaranteed when both parties have understood the message and can form specific opinions. Anything less is useless.







Good etiquette is inherent in all effective communications and includes: promptly replying an email, no matter how briefly; sending text messages within reasonable time frames; and returning a call when someone has left a message requesting for information. Such 'small' efforts matter a great deal in the long run. Cultivate the habit of not putting off an answer whenever you could give it right away. Work efficiently. Treat others the way you wish you would be treated, irrespective of professional ranks or qualifications.


The menace of lack of feedback is so endemic that we barely notice, or if we do, we shrug and mutter:


"That's how it is"
. 



In other words, we accept it. But we shouldn't. Let's begin a revolution. Let's pledge to give feedback even if it is not requested and  especially when we say we would do so.



This road to feedback-building is often paved with good intentions. Nevertheless,  those who do not give feedback fall into two undesirable  groups:



A) The 'Ostrich' people

In this group are people who actually want to give information but they are often in a dilemma when feedback is negative or unfavourable.


Scenarios are endless.


For example, a promising candidate failed the assessment; a promotion is delayed; a contact denied; the merger stalled. No one wants to be the bearer of bad news, so these people say nothing. They also make themselves unavailable or too 'busy' to answer piercing questions from the exasperated parties. They figure that sooner or later, the people seeking information would get it elsewhere anyway and they wouldn't need to 'deal' with the situation. While their intentions are honourable, evading the issue never really makes the problem go away; in fact it opens the door to confusion and ambiguity.



As professionals, we have been guilty of this unacceptable behaviour and often fail to realise one crucial point: communicating truthfully is more important than the unpleasant reality. People are actually more resilient than we think. Besides, the sooner the other party knows, (no matter how insignificant our information might seem), the better he could plan for the uncertainty. This is especially true in times of crises, tragedies or scandals. Hiding our heads in the sand, à la ostrich*solves absolutely nothing. Indeed, we would be labelled unprofessional because we are not accountable for our actions. 


                                  


We might as well forget about being given leadership positions or being considered managerial potential. And this is the ripple effect that is not immediately obvious for ‘serial’ Ostrich people.



B) The 'What's-In-It-For-Me' people


Alas we as humans, are inherently selfish.


Yes, I know: there are exceptions to every generalisation but the unpleasant truth is that on average, we do things for other people because of what we hope to receive in return.


And in business or our professional careers, where competition is rife, it is all too common. So we (reluctantly) agree to cover for a colleague with the ominous reminder: "You owe me one", or we offer to work late on an assignment to impress the boss.



  

We have become so accustomed to receiving something for every extra effort we expend that we sometimes fail to draw the line between the duties that are inherent in our jobs, and those we do as 'favours' for others.


So for example, a customer services operator, who, after calming down an irate client, promises to fix the slow internet connection problem in twenty minutes. He reassures the frustrated client that he would call promptly. Nevertheless, forty-five minutes elapse with no feedback whatsoever; the problem remains unresolved; and it becomes impossible to reach the operator.


Or let's say a customer calls his bank to cancel a transfer or to stop a cheque and is told by his account officer to write 'an official letter  making the request. Due to the urgency of the problem, the customer, unable to visit the bank due to work pressures, promptly writes, scans and forwards the signed letter to the stated bank, after which he confirms receipt of the document. Nonetheless, his request remains pending for well over one hour - a period during which he makes dozens of calls and is passed on from one bank official to another, each promising to call back to update him on the situation, but each failing to do so.


I am sure we can all relate to poor service delivery in many businesses. While the reason for poor customer service could be due to gross incompetence, in my experience, it is often due to the nonchalant,  lazy  attitudes of people, regardless of the fact that giving feedback and getting things done, like in the two scenarios mentioned above, are inherent in their job descriptions.


These 'What's-In-It-For-Me' people feel entitled and because they have no vested interests in other peoples' solutions, they cannot be bothered with issues that do not directly impact them. This means that they become unreliable and would communicate poorly or not at all.



So their deceptive:



"Don't worry;  I'd call you before the deadline at 2.30" - simply means that as soon as you finish the call, you should begin to look for alternatives.


Good luck to you if you constantly need to work with such people or if you are required to interact with them for whatever reason. You'd either need a great deal of patience when dealing with them or you'd be required to constantly develop contingency plans. This would become necessary because unless they feel that their jobs are at stake or that they would get 'in trouble' because of your associations with their superiors, they cannot be trusted to do their jobs properly. Let's not even talk about them going the extra mile.


Conclusion


Now I think you can understand why I had made the statement that feedback is the single most important facet in all communications.


Unfortunately, the lack of feedback in our professional lives is rife but we can change the status quo.


Let's begin a revolution; a complete attitudinal change. Let's pledge that we would begin to give factual and timely feedback.


Above all - let's not be considered 'Ostrich people' or worse yet, be labelled one of the unreliable'What's-In-It-For-Me' professionals.


Do you like this article? Then  kindly take action in two steps:



1) Join the 'Feedback Revolution': make a pledge to begin to give feedback whenever necessary. Post your comment below beginning with the phrase:


"I pledge henceforth..."


The attitudinal change begins with your declaration, then becomes a reality with your conscious action.


2) Share this article in your social networks and get fellow professionals to 'sign' the pledge as well...


Let's see how many pledges we could gather and how we could change the world...with useful feedback.





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N:B- Images are courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net. Animation is courtesy of gifgifs.com.



*Contrary to popular belief, it is actually a myth that the ostrich hides its head in the sand when faced with danger.