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The Art of Giving Feedback

Have you ever watched someone give a presentation and it was just awful…but then they ask you for feedback? If you have been in that predicament, then you probably experienced the same emotions I felt in that instance: uncomfortable, nervous, and scared and likely because, for starters, you didn’t want to hurt their feelings.

Also, have you yourself ever been in a situation where the feedback you received was “nice” or “good job”? Well I have, and it left me feeling confused, unsatisfied, and a need for wanting more details. Whether you have experienced one or both of these situations, giving and accepting feedback can be a challenge. People come to us for aid and we either do not know how to handle it and say the wrong thing, or hold back because we do not want to hurt their feelings or perhaps even our own. Giving effective feedback is a skill and can help aid the learning of other individuals, while also enhancing the connection you have with that person. But getting it right means being purposeful.

Impact of Feedback

When I was in my first internship in graduate school, we had to develop and execute a 90-minute lesson at a youth soccer camp that included information followed by an activity applying that information. After this 90-minutes, as the camp continued on with physical drills, our supervisors provided us feedback. Up to this point in my life, I had never really received feedback and in the times that I did, I usually took it personally. As my supervisor began listing off what he saw, my body language changed demonstrably, giving off signals of sadness and of someone who had lost self-confidence. For 10 minutes, my supervisor calmly described everything I did that was ineffective. He noticed my shift in body language and asked, “Are you okay?” to which I responded by saying that it sounded like I did nothing correct. To the contrary, at that point, he began listing all the things I did well and almost instantaneously my mood began to change in an upward motion.

Our ability to give feedback can have great impact. In that moment, I went from feeling disappointed to feeling optimistic about my progression. Things are going to go wrong, things will need to be improved, but there will always be something that you can use as a takeaway to build confidence and optimism. Feedback is not about making someone feel good or feel positive, it is about aiding in learning and development. In that moment, my own development was taking a hit by hearing all the things that needed improvement about the lesson I gave. It turned by hearing some of the good components that gave me that little bit of hope to keep going and keep trying.

When it comes to giving effective feedback, there are several things to consider. First, having some combination of what went well and what needs to be improved, regardless of outcome. Discussing the good things in a performance can help build confidence and optimism, while discussing those things needing improvement in a performance can provide the motivation to get better. Second, make sure your feedback is specific to the individual and the performance itself. Provide actual language they used, real-life examples, clear solutions so that the individual has a very clear picture about what to do the next time. Third, less is more when it comes to the amount of feedback. Sometimes, telling them everything they did good and bad might be overwhelming and they also might become reliant on the feedback itself.

Instead, stick to three things that went well and three things they need to be improved upon, because this increases the chance that the individual will make the necessary adjustments and become more efficient at those few things. Finally, prioritize process-based feedback over outcome-based. Individuals are able to self-regulate more effectively when receiving process-based feedback because the outcome itself is often times out of our control.

How to Give Feedback

When providing feedback, these simple components can help make your feedback more effective and efficient: reflect, discuss, next steps, and summarize. By no means is this a rigid model where you must follow exactly or else all will fail, but more of a starting point and provides some structure on how to give effective feedback.

To reflect, the intent is to provide an opportunity for yourself and the person receiving the feedback to reflect on the experience on their own. This process allows me, as the person providing the feedback, to organize my thoughts and decide what I need to prioritize. In the discussion component, each of the people engaged in the feedback exchange processes what has been said, a back and forth that allows for greater reflection and questioning. The feedback can include an overall tagline (their grade), what went well and how to continue to do those things well, and what needs to be improved and specific ways to go about making those improvements. This is where you may need to gather further understanding from the individual. If there was a mistake made, perhaps ask them about their decision-making process so that you can develop root-cause analysis and know exactly where to direct your efforts with the feedback you provide.

For next steps, this is where you can summarize both the good and the bad and then provide some clear solutions on what to do moving forward to make those changes. An important aspect here is getting the individual involved in the solutions created. This allows the individual to feel more control over their development, which can lead to enhanced motivation in the developmental process. And finally, in the summarize component, this is where you place a proverbial bow on the conversation. You review what you want the individual to take away from the feedback, reminding them of what the next steps are, and assist in developing some sort of follow up (if necessary) to track progress.

Final thoughts

Giving feedback can be awkward at times, but it can also be challenging. There are many factors that can get in the way of delivering effective feedback. However, the feedback you provide can ultimately aid in the development of those around you. Start by utilizing your resources by having subordinates seek feedback from peers and seeking feedback on the feedback you give, but also remind yourself that the feedback you provide can have a long-lasting impact on that individual. Be a leader, do the right thing, and watch these individuals thrive through your guidance.


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