Picture this. As the board chair of your association, you’ve been noticing that the membership committee chair, Bob, is not fulfilling his responsibility as a volunteer leader. Bob has been absent for meetings, is not engaging the rest of the committee, and is not sticking to agreed-upon timelines. The membership committee sees it, the board sees it, and you see it. You realize that part of the reason this has become a problem is your inability to give Bob feedback.

Giving feedback to a volunteer leader can be challenging. Giving and receiving feedback is not only key to your own personal development but the development of the board and the association. Additionally, feedback can increase our personal well-being, improve our work, and deepen our connections with other people. For more on board conversations, check out my colleague’s article Managing Tough Board Conversations.

The Benefits of Feedback

One can benefit from receiving constructive feedback can become more competent in their role. Feedback can lead to improved decision-making and collaboration, as well as better outcomes.

Positive feedback that comes in the form of recognition is one of the best ways to boost morale if a member like Bob may not be feeling engaged. Furthermore, it’s a way to make members feel valued and like they are truly a part of the association. Moreover, this could affect the likelihood of them staying in their role. When people are happy and more engaged, they become part of the process of making others feel more positive and engaged. The association becomes a safe space, within which its members can learn and grow.

Nine Tips on How to Improve Feedback Delivery

Here are some tips to give feedback in a constructive way.

Use the Situation-Behavior-Impact Model to Guide You

Describe the specific situation in which the behaviour occurred. Keep the description short and to the point. Avoid argumentative language. Describe the result of the behaviour and how it affected others.

Don’t Give the “Feedback Sandwich”

Many of us like to open with a compliment and end on a positive note. Putting the negative meat in the middle may mean that it gets lost in the feedback sandwich. Why? We tend to remember the first and last things we hear in a conversation. Also, if we’re more accustomed to receiving negative feedback, we anticipate it. When we hear praise, we often begin to brace ourselves so much that we fail to appreciate the initial positive.

Use Radical Candor

Show that you care before you offer a critique. “Care personally, while you challenge directly.” Acknowledge others, listen attentively, and thank people. For more on active listening, check out my recent article, The Importance of Active Listening for an Association Leader.

Explain Why You’re Giving Feedback

If you start with your intention, it can lower someone’s defenses. You can share that you’re having the conversation because you know what that person is capable of. You want to challenge, but not in a way where someone feels like they’re being punished.

Level the Playing Field.

People naturally feel threatened by negative feedback. To minimize this reaction and strengthen trust, make yourself vulnerable. You might say something like, “I’ve grown a lot from feedback from the board, and I’m trying to pay it forward.” For more on working together check out my colleague’s article Collaboration and Delegation; The Science of Working Together.

Ask If They Want Feedback

For example, “I noticed some things about the membership strategic plan recently. Are you open to some feedback?” If people take ownership of delivering feedback, they will be more open to it and less defensive.

If You See a Problem, Offer Feedback Immediately or Shortly Thereafter

Whenever possible, sooner is better because people may not remember the situation you’re describing. The issue will be fresh both in your mind and the other individual’s.

Deliver Any Negative Feedback in Private Rather Than in Public

Positive feedback delivered in public is typically welcome, and it’s a good way to reinforce positive behaviours that you’d like to see repeated. However, some people are embarrassed and uncomfortable with public feedback, even if it’s positive. If you’re not sure, it’s best to ask them in advance.

Pay Attention to Your Non-Verbal Cues and Facial Expressions When Delivering Feedback

How you say something is just as important as what you say. The delivery can often be more important than the message itself. Be sure to have your body language match the message that’s coming out of your mouth.

Giving feedback isn’t always easy. Encouraging people’s strengths with specific feedback will help strengthen your board, your association, and your community. Focus on how you deliver the feedback. Be specific, be realistic, and own it. Focus on the behaviour, not the person, and offer continued support. By providing feedback with empathy and candor, you can ignite a spark back in members like “Bob.” It will help him, you, and your association thrive.