Posts Tagged ‘Aristotle’

Giving Feedback

March 6, 2012

“It is easy to be angry.  But to be angry, with the right person, to the right degree at the right time for the right purpose in the right way, this is not easy.”   Aristotle

We could easily swap the word ‘angry’ for ‘feedback’.  Lots of organisations want and claim to have a feedback culture.  We talk about giving it, receiving it, who likes it, who hates it, who does it a lot, who never does it, what a feedback culture looks like. It is easy to talk about it. The trouble is, an organisation can’t just do it and individuals can’t just do it. We need to plan it together, think carefully about it, learn it, unlearn some old habits, practice it, make mistakes, have models to help us and know we are always learning. Feedback (both positive and negative) is an indispensable part of our lives. If we can understand and use it, this feedback can empower us to communicate more openly and improve. Why then do so many of us resist taking full advantage of what can be such an enormous benefit?

One of the reasons why we tend to resist feedback is that a good part of our self image is based on how other people view us. When we find out that someone sees us in a less than positive light we may feel devastated. The world over, people tend to like to hear what is consistent with their own views and to resist ideas contrary to their belief structures. But if we knew we were doing something ineffectively, wouldn’t we automatically try to improve the deficiency? Negative feedback implies that we could be wrong. What could be more personal and threatening? It takes an open mind to be able to listen to an opposing view. That is why we are going to look at models and best practice for receiving feedback as well as giving feedback.

Think of a time when you gave feedback to someone and it was successful as far as you were aware. What did YOU do that made it go well? Now, think of a time when you gave some feedback that was not successful? What did YOU do that prevented it from going well? Chances are you did that quite easily.  It is likely that you can list what makes feedback good and what doesn’t work in theory. Can you think of a time when you wanted to give someone some feedback but you didn’t do it? There are so many barriers we can put up ourselves to stop us from giving feedback to others, even if we know in theory how to do it.

These include:

“If I wait long enough the situation will resolve itself so I do not have to get involved”

“Since I do not like to receive feedback I can’t imagine anyone else would so I will keep quiet”

“I give feedback indirectly by using sarcasm and jokes”

“There just never seems to be the right time to give feedback and I keep putting it off”

“It takes too much time to provide feedback effectively, I’d rather pick up the slack than take the time to do it”

“I’m unsure of how the other person is going to respond to my feedback so I avoid giving it”

“I’m not perfect so who am I to judge anyone else’s behaviour”

“If I give my boss any negative feedback it may be used against me in my next 1:1”

“I’ve let the situation go on for too long now and I am so angry I will probably blow up and mishandle the situation”

Once you are familiar with best practice for giving feedback and have practiced using the phrases and models, but find you are still resisting giving feedback, check you are not hiding behind one of these barriers. Remember your comfort zone is guarded by fear, upset, pride, apathy and anger and these guards try to stop you going into stretch.  Thank them for letting you know you are in stretch, then turn them off and get into stretch anyway… is where you learn the most and we will not achieve a feedback culture if everybody stays in their comfort zone!


Effective / Positive delivery

  • Supportive – Delivered in a non threatening encouraging manner
  • Direct – Focus of feedback clearly stated
  • Sensitive – Delivered with sensitivity to needs of other person
  • Considerate – Not intended to insult or demean
  • Descriptive – Focused on behaviour that can be changed, rather than personality
  • Specific – Feedback focused on specific event or behaviour
  • Healthy timing – Given as close to the prompting event as possible at an opportune time
  • Thoughtful – well considered rather than impulsive
  • Helpful – Feedback is intended to be of value to the other person
  • Speak for yourself – not others
  • Consider language – if you say never do you mean never or sometimes?
  • Secure the other person’s permission to give the feedback

Ineffective / Negative delivery

  • Attacking – Hard hitting and aggressive, focuses on the weakness of the other person
  • Indirect – Feedback is vague and issues hinted at rather than addressed directly
  • Insensitive – Little concern for the needs of the other person
  • Disrespectful – Feedback is demeaning, bordering on insulting
  • Judgemental – Feedback is evaluative, judging personality rather than behaviour
  • General – aimed at broad issues not easily defined
  • Poor timing – Given long after the event or at the worst possible time
  • Impulsive – Given thoughtlessly with little regard for consequences
  • Selfish – Meets givers needs rather than needs of other person

Well that is all well and good, but what should you actually say?

Giving the feedback

Step one – Check out why you are providing the feedback?

Step two – Research the facts and plan your feedback

Step three – Be immediate

Step four – Be specific

Step one: Check out why you are giving the feedback

Reasons to give feedback:

  • To continually improve team performance
  • To correct an individuals poor performance
  • To motivate
  • To learn from past mistakes

Reasons not to give feedback:

  • To make yourself feel superior and / or right

Step two: Research the facts and plan your feedback

Be sure you have accurate information about what the person did and why. You will need to listen to others and focus on their intent rather than their style (although sometimes it is appropriate to give feedback about style too). Seek more understanding through clarification and ask questions to check you have not misunderstood the situation or the facts. If appropriate, make sure you and others know and understand what is expected of them and what the standards are. Remember that any positives should be given as feedback as well. Negative feedback will be better received if your ‘emotional bank account’ with that person is in credit. A useful quote to bear in mind from Dr James Dobson’s book ‘What wives wish their husbands knew’:

“The right to criticise must be earned, even if the advice is constructive in nature. Before you are entitled to tinker with another person’s self esteem, you are obligated first to demonstrate your respect for him / her as a person. When a relationship of confidence has been carefully constructed, you will have earned the right to discuss a potentially threatening topic. Your motives will therefore have been clarified.”

Excellent advice… not only for personal relationships, but for professional ones too. You have not gained the right to give feedback to someone merely because you have a certain title or position.  You must earn the right through your relationship with them. When planning your feedback it is important to avoid the feedback sandwich – actually advocated by some people. The feedback sandwich sandwiches negative feedback between two positive pieces of feedback. Did the receiver actually get the developmental feedback? Will they walk away thinking about it? If you use this style the next time you give positive feedback to someone they will automatically assume you will follow it with critical feedback. Unfortunately, the sandwich approach negates any positive reinforcement you try to provide.

Step three:  Be immediate

Once you have checked out your intentions for giving the feedback, checked your facts and planned how to say it, you are ready to give positive or negative feedback. If someone has done a good job, praise that person for it.  Positive feedback should be given as close to the event as possible to have the greatest impact. However, for negative feedback you need to consider your timing. You can do it immediately following the behaviour, as constructive feedback or you can do it just prior to the next opportunity to improve or grow, as advice. Be short and specific. Select a good time, but do not save up your comments until you have lots to reel off. When giving feedback you should not be asking for a complete change of lots of behaviours. It is far more effective to address one thing at a time. It is important to be sensitive to personal timing when you give constructive feedback. If the situation already involved stress for the person you may correctly decide to wait until the other person is in a better frame of mind to listen and do something about your feedback. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and ask yourself when you would prefer to receive the feedback. Giving effective feedback requires compassion, insight and tact.

However, beware against putting the feedback off. If you wait and wait, hoping that someone will change on their own you will probably be disappointed. Storing it up is more likely to make you frustrated and lash out, rather than planning your feedback appropriately and just because something has been on our minds for ages does not mean you can expect overnight change. Be mindful of ‘mind readers syndrome’.

Step four:  Be Specific

Using ‘I’ messages is one of the best techniques for giving feedback. Normally people have a tendency to use ‘you – blaming’ statements such as “you never promote on calls”  or “why are you always late to our meetings?”.  In contrast to ‘you – blaming’ statements we need to take responsibility to express our own feelings and let the person know the effect of his / her behaviour on us. Make sure the feedback is specific and observed, avoid feeding back on second hand information. Use verbatim quotes or specific observed behaviour, come from a place of curiosity when exploring the point you are feeding back, ask genuine questions and listen to understand.

This concludes the first part of my feedback blog, second part coming soon, so watch this space or follow us to stay up-to-date.


Sean Spugin - Blue Sky Performance Improvement

Blue Sky Performance Improvement