This week…
The Truth About Feedback

The Truth About Feedback

Thank you very much for the excellent delivery of the job search workshop, and the subsequent coaching tips. I have found both to have been an excellent help in my quest for future employment. Keep up the good work.
- John Heaphy

Three weeks ’til Christmas and my children are already wired. They can hardly sit still with excitement. I expect that up and down the land, in homes like mine, parents are already giving their little ones plenty of "feedback".

Speaking of which, I recently heard a cracking example which I think is about typical of the natural feedback model many of us use by reflex. I was helping my daughter get changed after her swimming lesson and not too far away was a mother giving her son some feedback on his performance.

Given that the lad was about 8 and had just spent an hour swimming up and down more times than I could, I thought he’d done pretty well but as I listened, she berated him at length about his performance; criticising this and that. As he began, understandably, to get upset and well up she turned to the other parents, and with a sort of shared, knowing smile, said to us generally "See, he’s not very good at taking rejection either" turning to her son she said to him "You’ll have to get used to rejection if you want to be any good".

Resisting the urge to shake her by the throat, it did occur to me that, one day, that little boy will be consulting an executive coach about his inability to give (and receive) good feedback.

My stream of future clients is assured as long as parents like that are around!

We’re not very good at feedback, are we? We tend to give feedback by reflex, using a feedback model given to us by the significant adults in our lives.

In fact, I find that managers tend to fall into three groups when giving feedback.

Mr Critical

Never happy, always finding something to complain about, hard on people. Largely believes that you have to keep on top of people to get results.

Mr Nice

The other extreme, wants to be mates with his people, likes a laugh, we’re all one happy family. Oddly, his feedback is likely to be vague and useless.

Mr No Feedback

Never says much, expects people to get on with it. Has plenty of feedback for his team but only ever tells other people, never them. May believe that giving people a salary is feedback enough.

Alternatively, some managers have heard of the feedback sandwich, you know - say something nice, deliver criticism, say something nice. I've even heard praise described as the bread with criticism described as the meat in the sandwich - just think what that implies; that the negative part of the feedback is the most important part!! What a limiting belief.

Here’s the truth about the feedback sandwich - IT DOESN’T WORK!

At least it doesn’t work the way most people use it. It doesn’t work for two reasons:

  1. Managers usually pay scant attention to the positive feedback.
  2. Because of a) most people can hear the "but" coming a mile off and treat anything else with cynicisim.

In fact, I've seen one article recently that seriously advocated not using the feedback sandwich in case you said so many positive things that the person did not listen to the important part of the feedback.

Again, think what that implies, that a change in performance is what feedback is for AND that the negative part is the most important. What a limiting belief.

So, how can you give feedback that works?

First, we need to consider…

Some home truths about feedback

People are, most of the time, hungry for more love, affection, warmth and respect, particularly at work.

- sincere appreciation is like an oasis in the desert, like giving water to a thirsty traveller.

Feedback starts with you

- your success or not with feedback depends on how well you learn to give feedback to yourself. You’ll tend to treat others pretty much the way you treat yourself and so the place to start is with the way you talk to yourself, about yourself and about your own results. Learning to give yourself helpful constructive feedback is the single most important change you can make to how you manage others.

- a journal, a learning log or an action learning set can all be very helpful here in beginning the process of giving yourself structured feedback.

Consider your role in their results

- before launching into feedback, consider the role that you might have played in creating their results. What could you do differently that would make it easier for them to get the result you want to see?

Say it the way you want it

- remember, your brain can’t "don’t" something or "not" something, it can only do positive things. When someone says to you "don’t think of a purple frog!" what hops into your mind? With feedback, you need to say it the way you want it - "think of a red frog".

Feedback really is a gift

- it’s an old cliché but giving people feedback, of the sort described below, really is a gift. And being a gift giver may have powerful effect on your career.

How to use the feedback sandwich properly

Having said all that, the feedback sandwich (used properly) remains one of the most powerful ways to rapidly improve someone’s performance. Here’s the detail on how to use it with the biggest impact:

1. Give feedback within 5 minutes

People find it easier to both confirm good performance and change current performance while events are recent. All the of steps below work extra well when you use them within 5mins of the behaviour you want to comment on.

As above, remember that you need to give yourself quick feedback as well.

2. Start with 3 or 4 specific behaviours to praise, appreciate or draw attention to.

Be specific about their behaviour.

"I thought the way you explained that by using your story was really helpful"

"I noticed you listening carefully to that customer explaining her problem and I was impressed, well done."

This is the most important part of the feedback because you are drawing attention to stuff that you want them to do more of. Make it pleasurable for them to do more of it.

3. Highlight a single specific behaviour that would make it even better next time.

"You could be even better next time if you remembered to write down their phone number and repeat it back to them as they told you."

4. Finish with an overall positive comment

This time make the comment about their identity NOT their behaviour.

"You’re a good salesman and I really value having you on my team"

Start with yourself

Notice that this way of using the feedback sandwich is about hunting for positive behaviours to reinforce and keeping the focus firmly on future performance.

This avoids the kind of "post-mortem feedback" that bedevils so many performance reviews.

As I said before, the way to get really good at giving feedback is to practice and the best person to start practising on is yourself. Practice using this feedback model with your own performance by taking just 10mins at the start of the day to reflect, journal, meditate or just think about how you did in the last 24hrs.

Then you can practice on your boss, children, partner or the man in the newsagent!