The Art of Giving Feedback

The Art of Giving Feedback

Some principles for Giving feedback

 

Change
The emotional journey of change

Giving feedback can have both positive and negative results. Here are my thoughts on how to make sure the result is more likely to be positive.

Checklist before proceeding

▪   Be Honest, with care.

▪   Be Specific, concise.

▪   Give examples, especially if the feedback is likely to surprise to the other person.

▪    Focus on things people can change:

▪   Relate to actual behaviour, not personality

▪   Constructive, actionable — make suggestions and offer alternatives — avoid giving       “the answer”

▪   Feedback should be based on observations, not inferences or assumptions.

▪   Don’t make value judgments.  Don’t evaluate.  “You shouldn’t have done that” could encourage defensiveness.

▪   Not too much, balanced, be positive first.  Two or three positive comments and one thing to change is a good balance.  Be genuine, don’t make things up.

▪   Check feedback is understood; check for accuracy.  Ask them to summarise, to tell you what you have said.

▪   Offer feedback, but do not try to impose it

▪   Use direct language — use “I” statements (e.g. I need you to, I’d like you to, I’d appreciate it if you would…)

▪   Maintain eye contact

▪   Be still, calm, confident, not apologetic

▪   Speak clearly with even pace and measured tone, not loudly

▪   Give soon after the event.  Rather than storing it all up for the review meeting.  Also, this minimises distortion.

▪   Be timely: think about the other person’s need for privacy, the environment, and the likely level of receptiveness.

Groundrules for Giving Feedback

Be Timely, Near to the Event

Be sensitive to whether the recipient is ready to hear what you have to say.  This said, a general rule is to offer feedback as early as possible after the event.  This reduces distortion and places the feedback in context. Delay makes it more difficult for the individual to learn which action led to which unsuccessful, or successful, outcome.

Motivational feedback (positive appreciation on what has been done well) is most effective early.  Formative feedback (suggestions on what might be done differently) is sometimes most helpful just before the next attempt by the individual to practice or use the skill or carry out the task.

Be Honest and deliver with Care

Useful feedback is given by someone who feels concern for and cares for the person receiving the feedback.  The giver must want to help, not hurt, the other person and is sensitive to the timing, pace and depth of feedback that would be best for the recipient.  This means that we must concentrate and be aware of ourselves and what we are doing as we give feedback.  Giving (and receiving) feedback requires skill, understanding and courage, and respect for oneself and others.

Be Specific and Concise

Generalisations do not help, so relate your feedback to specific incidents and behaviour.  At the same time, don’t make the feedback too long, smothering your key points in non-essential and probably mutually protective waffle about general feelings or impressions.  The most useful feedback is direct, open and offered with concrete examples.

Relate feedback to behaviour not personality

Focus on what the individual does or says rather than on what he/she is.  Relating your feedback to actions makes it descriptive rather than evaluative; it is directed toward behaviour which the receiver can do something about. It is  less threatening to hear comments on our behaviour rather than our personality “traits”, which imply deep seated attitudes which are difficult, if not impossible, to change.

Be Constructive and give Actionable suggestions

Focus on things people can change and can therefore choose to alter.  You might offer ideas and information, suggestions and alternatives.  Avoid being seen to offer “the answer”.

Ask questions rather than make statements.  Questions get answers, statements get reactions.  Asking questions to seek the individual’s ideas and encourage consideration of alternatives will make them think about the issues and give them the responsibility for reaching their own conclusions.  This is very much a coaching style and will prevent premature acceptance of a particular approach or solution.

Our aim is to leave the person free to decide, in the light of their own goals in a particular situation, how to use the ideas that we share with them and not to force a particular change by the pressure of our feedback.  People will not do what we want them to do, they must feel in control.

Observations without interference.

Try to be objective and refer to what you see or hear (observation) rather than making interpretations and reaching conclusions (inference), drawn from what we see or hear, and which are open to dispute.  Offer feedback on observed behaviour rather than perceived attitudes.  Sharing inferences may be helpful but they must be identified as such, and checked, so as not to cloud the feedback.

Do not Judge

Value judgments (evaluation in terms of good/bad, right/wrong) are likely to lead to defensiveness.  Express your feedback in terms of “more or less” which implies a continuum on which behaviour may fall, rather than “good or bad” which is a more judgmental “either/or categorisation.

So, describe what occurred and your reaction and leave the group or individual free to use it or not.  Keep your feedback neutral rather than laden with your own personal values; this is hard to do because we are all good at judging.  Try to separate what the person is doing from what you feel as a consequence; this gives the individual clear information as to the effect of their behaviour.

Example

When you start to shout I feel anxious and the result is I withdraw from discussion.

Note that when given in this way, feedback can lead to both giver and receiver learning from it.  Also, effective feedback deals with facts and feelings so that the receiver can judge the full impact of their behaviour.

Not too much and be Positive first

Observe everyone’s personal limits; we all can only handle so much feedback about our performance at a time.  Therefore, concentrate on those few key points that will make the biggest difference to the individual if they take them on board and work to change their behaviour.  When we give more than can be used we are probably satisfying some need in ourselves rather than helping the other person.  Let the receiver ask for more feedback if he or she needs it.

Offering both positive and negative comments helps the negative to be accepted.  Being aware of our strengths as well as our weaknesses helps us to maintain a balanced, realistic self-image and work positively at improving our performance.

People find it hard to accept praise and always wait for the “but”.  It is important to comment on the things that an individual did well, as well as areas for improvement, and because of these cultural inhibitions the praise must be sincere and very specific.

Check Understanding and Accuracy

Ask the receiver to reflect back and summarise the feedback offered to see if it corresponds with what the giver intended.

When feedback is given in a group situation, both the giver and receiver have an opportunity to check it’s accuracy with others in the group.  Is it one person’s feelings or is it supported by others?

Offer do not Impose.

Your feedback should be sought and welcomed, certainly offered, but not imposed.  “I’ve got some feedback for you on that point, do you want to hear it?”, is a useful way to offer feedback.  The feedback should serve the needs of the recipient rather than the needs of the giver. It should not be a “release” for the giver, dumping feelings on to another person which have nothing to do with them and are not their responsibility.

  1. Great post Rikki. I find the hardest thing for many people is not to judge. Everyone is keen to wade in and give their opinion, but this opinion sometimes turns to judgement without them realising.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Ant, when I am listening to people talk about colleagues or situations they are in, it is amazing how often they are judging by assuming the other person does or should thinks just like them. 2 eyes, 2 ears and 1 mouth, so watch to pick up whats going on, listen to what is being said, then speak..

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