Your barn door is open

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Chad Marien
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Inspector General
Feedback is a means to improve or reinforce behavior. It is not always easy to administer, though it is essential in maintaining a healthy organization and good unit morale. There is much to consider before critiquing someone. To whom are you giving the feedback? What is your relationship with the person? What is the mental state of the person? What is your mental state? How timely are you? What is the outcome you desire? Who else is present? What are the surroundings? Without careful thought, your good intentions may not be very effective.

Feedback can be communicated in many different ways: physically through body language, a facial expression, verbally or written. Before you give feedback, you will have to decide the best delivery given the circumstance. For example, a child that is about to step in front of a moving car may require you to raise your voice and be very direct with them to remove them from the dangerous situation. You would not, however, use the same method of feedback to educate them on keeping their room clean.

Before you give the feedback, you should understand the expected outcome. Knowing this will help you formulate the timeliness and the most appropriate method of delivery. If you do not understand the outcome, your feedback will be unproductive and could create friction between you and the individual.

Keep your objective realistic. If the person you are critiquing is not capable of doing what you are asking, they could become discouraged. You may need to research to better understand if there are any limitations. It also may require you to have an expert in the room as you give the feedback in order to help mediate.

Know your audience. Consider the mental state of yourself and the individual to whom you are providing the feedback. It can be a very emotional event. If feedback is required immediately for the sake of safety, it is important that the communication is clear and direct, like the instance of a child stepping into a busy street. Additional feedback should follow once the emotions have settled down and the event can be discussed in a more rational state of mind.

You should also consider your surroundings. Feedback can make a person feel uneasy causing them to be distracted. It is not easy being critiqued especially if it is in front of your peers. Have you ever been in a situation where you've had to tell someone that their pants were unzipped? It can be very difficult to give feedback in a situation like this. Usually a clever euphemism is used like, "Your barn door is open," in attempt to be discreet as to not embarrass the individual. Again, you should think about the objective you are trying to achieve and decide the timeliness and the effectiveness of giving the feedback in front of an audience.

Lastly, be consistent. If you give an impression of having a double standard, or being flaky, your feedback will not be very effective. In order to help you manage your feedback, it is helpful to document the event for future reference. The documentation can then be used as a memory jogger, or a metric in determining whether or not your feedback was sufficient in achieving the overall objective.

Feedback is important, and can be a very positive and effective way of helping individuals in your unit. Be open to people giving you critiques and evaluate other supervisor's methods as well as talk to them about what has worked best for them. Practice, carefully consider your delivery, and regard the influence your feedback has.