What is Feedback?
“Intent” vs “Impact”
The term “feedback” is often used to describe all kinds of comments made after the fact, including advice, praise, and evaluation. But none of these are feedback, strictly speaking. Basically, feedback is information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal.*
Good feedback is goal-referenced; tangible and transparent; actionable; user-friendly (specific and personalized); timely; ongoing; and consistent.*
Well delivered feedback can be seen as a “gift” you give to support someone’s efforts. Poorly delivered feedback is likely to be experienced as harsh and hurtful.
How We Can Give Effective Feedback
First, start by understanding these working assumptions:
- People are often not aware of the way they are perceived or their impact on people.
- It’s almost impossible to learn about your impact without feedback.
- There are two sets of skills in the feedback loop: giving feedback and getting feedback.
- The purpose of feedback is to help a person continue to be successful or to help someone become successful.
- The key is willingness to give and receive feedback.
Feedback is always being given consciously or unconsciously, skillfully or carelessly. Through the feedback process, we see ourselves as others see us. Through feedback, other people also learn how we see them. Feedback gives information to a person or group, either by verbal or nonverbal communication.
- Think about a time you got positive or negative feedback. Did you learn something?
- Think about a time you gave positive or negative feedback. What was the goal? What was the result?
For most of us, it’s difficult to give feedback. It’s also hard to hear negative feedback and recognize its value.
Why is receiving feedback so challenging?
- Feedback sits at the crux of two human needs:
- The need to grow and learn; and
- The need to be accepted and respected the way you are right now.
- It pushes buttons:
- Truth: “You’re wrong!” “That’s not true!” “It’s not balanced.”
- Relationships: “Who are you to tell me?”
- Identity: “That’s not how I see myself.”
Why is giving feedback so challenging?
- We don’t have the vocabulary.
- Impact can be received as judgment, although not intended.
- Can result in hurt feelings.
Giving Feedback – Best Practices
- Address observed, clearly defined behavior (tangible and transparent)
- Be descriptive and specific, not interpretive or judgmental — without using “never” or “always” (goal-referenced)
- Describe the impact you see (check out Skill Builder: Designing “I” Statements)
- Must be timely
- Should be given in the time, place, and manner based on the needs of the receiver (user-friendly)
- Invite the receiver to respond
- Help receiver do something with it (actionable)
- Watch your tone of voice or word choice:
- Confrontational language suggests you are:
- Unwilling to consider the other person’s position
- Absolutely certain you are right
- Primed to argue and blame
- Not allowing the other person to save face
- Cooperative language suggests you are:
- Willing to consider the other person’s position
- Recognizing you could be wrong
- Seeking to address a problem together
- Helping the other person save face
- Confrontational language suggests you are:
Here are some examples of giving feedback:*
- A friend tells me, “You know, when you put it that way and speak in that softer tone of voice, it makes me feel better.” (Cooperative, Informative)
- Versus: “Why are you so loud?” (Confrontational, Harsh)
- A reader comments on my short story, “The first few paragraphs kept my full attention. The scene painted was vivid and interesting. But then the dialogue became hard to follow; as a reader, I was confused about who was talking, and the sequence of actions was puzzling, so I became less engaged.” (Tangible, Descriptive)
- Versus: “This doesn’t make sense!” (Judgmental, Uninformative)
- A baseball coach tells me, “Each time you swung and missed, you raised your head as you swung so you didn’t really have your eye on the ball. On the one you hit hard, you kept your head down and saw the ball.” (Tangible, Descriptive, Informative)
- Versus: “You’re not a very good batter.” (Judgmental, Uninformative)
Getting Feedback – Best Practices
- Be curious
- Assume good intentions
- Don’t be defensive – even if you disagree – remain neutral so you can listen/hear
- Ask questions
- Your first response should be a question
Here are some examples of getting (responding to) feedback:*
- Feedback: “You know, when you put it that way and speak in that softer tone of voice, it makes me feel better.”
- Response: “Oh, did my tone feel harsh to you? Thanks for letting me know, I’ll try to speak more softly.
- Feedback: “The first few paragraphs of your story kept my full attention. The scene painted was vivid and interesting. But then the dialogue became hard to follow; as a reader, I was confused about who was talking, and the sequence of actions was puzzling, so I became less engaged.”
- Response: “That’s helpful perspective. What do you think would make the dialog more clear?”
- Feedback: “As your coach, I observed that each time you swung and missed, you raised your head as you swung so you didn’t really have your eye on the ball. On the one you hit hard, you kept your head down and saw the ball.”
- Response: “Really? I didn’t realize I was doing that. I’ll focus on that next time and see if I do better. Thanks!”
* Seven Keys to Effective Feedback, Grant Wiggins
[Please note: content related to feedback best practices is largely drawn from resources provided by Community Boards. To learn more about Community Boards, check out their website.]