Feedback Part 3: Giving Effective Feedback

feedback buttonsHave you ever received feedback that shut you down? Caused you to just want to crawl under a rock and die? Completely de-motivated you?  It’s a real shame when this happens, because feedback, even when it is pointing out things that can be improved, can be a great motivator and learning experience when done correctly.  Hopefully, you’ve been able to use my previous posts about receiving feedback to react appropriately when feedback is not the most effective.  But whether you are a manager, a parent, a teacher, a coach, or just occasionally asked for your opinion, you need to know how to give effective feedback.

Your objective in giving feedback is to help the person understand their best strengths, and get them charged up to work on the next thing that can make them even better.  We’ve moved away from the word criticism, because it now carries negative connotations (even though the word itself can be applied to negative or positive feedback).  Remember when we used to get and give “constructive criticism?”  I don’t care how you word it, that always felt bad.  It was nearly always a negative experience because it’s so easy to find something that can be improved, and the criticism, even if delivered with a fair amount of tact, always felt bad.  It was about something that was “wrong” and it was given “for your own good.”  Since when does something done “for your own good” feel welcome?

I now use the word feedback because it is truly neutral.  It tends to conjure up the idea of a mirror reflecting back to you how you are doing, without emotion or judgment.  In Toastmasters, we use the term evaluation.  That is also a fairly neutral term, but does connotate a bit of judgment.  Perhaps this is a good thing, as it reminds us that what we are getting is one person’s idea of how we did, a personal judgment, not an overall immutable Truth.

By the way, here’s my little commercial for Toastmasters: Toastmasters International is the world’s premier organization for learning and teaching vital communication and leadership skills.  It is personal development at its best, happening in a friendly club setting where members help each other learn, grow, and succeed.  If you are not already a member, you should be, and if you are interested in learning excellent evaluation skills such as those I’ll discuss today, this is the place for you.  It’s a lot cheaper than other programs and it’s ongoing, not a finite course.  I’ve been a member for 16 years now, and I still learn something at every meeting.  Click on www.toastmasters.org for more information and to find a club near you.

Here’s an anatomy of effective feedback: it

  1. is relatively brief and to the point.  If you’re speaking to someone with your feedback for more than, say, three to five minutes, you run the risk of having the person tune out.  You may be trying to cover too many points at once.  Rather than helping them improve for next time, you start to seem pedantic and picky, and although you may not see it, the person is rolling their eyes on the inside.
  2. is timely; it happens soon after the event/performance/behavior for which you are providing feedback.  If you wait too long, it is no longer effective.  Memories get fuzzy, bad habits may have formed, or discouragement may have set in.  And you risk violating #1 by having too many things to discuss and taking too long to discuss them.  It’s important to note here that you don’t want to take #1 and #2 too far by giving “hit and run” feedback.  Give them a chance to discuss it with you, ask questions, and explain things you might not have understood.
  3. is tactful; it uses sensitive and respectful language and addresses the behavior/performance in question, not the person or their personal characteristics.  One exception to this (the personal characteristics, not the tact) is in close personal relationships, when you are asking someone to change a habit or behavior that is causing stress in your relationship.  Still, though, no personal attacks; just the facts, ma’am.
  4. is honest; it does not give undue praise or unnecessary chastisement.  In Toastmasters, we avoid the “whitewash” (saying everything was wonderful, don’t change a thing) because we learn nothing from that; and the “bloody dagger” (everything was terrible, or you did this wrong and that wrong, etc.) because we shut down in self-defense and learn nothing from that either.  Worse, we have little motivation to keep going and get better.
  5. is specific; it is not enough to say “that was pretty good, now try again” because it is too vague.  Obviously the person has to try again in order to improve, but knows nothing specific to do differently to make it any better.  “Great power in that swing!  Choke up a bit and try again!” would be a much better example.
  6. addresses what the person did well, as well as what they can do to improve.  We learn from both types of feedback, and we need both.  Even the best want to improve and need some suggestions toward that end, and even the worst have something good that they should keep doing.  It’s important to point out those good things so they’ll keep them and also so they’ll know they’re on the right track at least somewhere.

In Toastmasters we use the rule CRE: Commend, Recommend, and Encourage.  If you’re doing all three along with the above, you’re doing fine.

Finally, I want to point out that unless it is your job or role as an authority figure to provide feedback, avoid giving it — even when you have some great suggestions — unless it is asked for.  Just as you would not want the random person on the street to stop you and tell you those pants make your bottom look fat, you don’t want to be the one with the inappropriate and unwelcome suggestions.  You will never know for sure unless they ask for your feedback, so just wait until they ask and if they don’t, well, don’t bite that tonguetoo hard!

Oh, and by the way, the comment box below is your invitation to give feedback on this post.  Looking forward to hearing from you!

Here’s hoping I see you at the next Toastmasters meeting for developing excellent evaluation skills and much, much more.  “Toastmasters: Where Leaders are Made.”

Done with the advertisement, now on with a great week!

Laura

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About ItsMeLaura
I'm here to talk about a multitude of things, some perhaps interesting.

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