“If you keep sweeping it under the rug, you will trip over it”
This is the quote I heard the other day & it sparked a note with me.
I think we do this a lot. When we are afraid of confrontation or don’t want to confront something.
In this post, I want to talk specifically about supervising undergraduate housing staff & providing them with direct and constructive feedback. For this post, I will use the term “RA” to signify Resident Assistant, Community Assistant…etc or whatever it is that you or your institution might use.
I think it is crucial in building a successful RA team to provide them with specific and direct feedback. I readily acknowledge that not every staff member wants feedback the same way, however I think as a supervisor giving consistent and timely feedback is very important.
- Be direct. While some of us get butterflies in our stomachs when we need to be ‘critical’ it is the only way that our staff will learn to perform better. Be direct. It is worse if you ‘beat around the bush’ than if you get straight to the point.
- Sandwich method works! For some of us, doing the ‘good – bad – good’ type of feedback works better! I remember that I’ve used this technique many times. “Hey, you did a great job planning x program. Your program evaluation was late and that is unacceptable. However, I also appreciate how well you advertised for this event.”
- Be specific. “You constantly have side conversations in meetings” vs “Today during our staff meeting it was very distracting when you turned to Joe several times to engage in a side conversation.” Which is clearer for you? The second one. As a supervisor, it gives you less wiggle room for the student to say “uh, I didn’t do that.” As a supervisee, it allows the employee to say “oh, so that’s exactly what my supervisor doesn’t like. I can fix that.”
- Be timely. This is so important, but also sometimes very tricky. As a supervisor, when we see something that needs to be addressed, we need to make sure we track the student staff member down and provide them with the feedback as soon as we can. I know I’ve had staff members in the past who seem to be ‘suddenly very busy’ when they know I’ve got to address a behavioral concern with them.
- Provide both positive & constructive feedback! While this whole blog post is targeted at the idea of providing ‘tough’ feedback, it is important to be direct, specific, and timely with positive praise as well.
- Follow it up in writing! I learned this trick from Deb Schmidt-Rodgers. After each meeting with a student where I give feedback (positive or negative) I provide them with an email afterwards which spells out the specific feedback that they have been given. Often times this reminds me of things I had wanted to bring up but didn’t. Or, it helps me to phrase things in a different way that might hit home better. Also, I’ve found that many of the more ‘challenging’ conversations I’ve had with my staff, the email has opened the door for them to respond to me and engage me in a conversation about the concern – after they have had time to process their thoughts about whatever the feedback was.
Back to the quote that spawned this post, “If you keep sweeping it under the rug, you will trip over it.” You need to give feedback to avoid this problem. It is important to be direct, be specific, timely, and then be sure to provide both positive and negative feedback.
What other tips should be added?