Guest Blog Post – 4 tips for giving feedback

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We are delighted to share a guest post this week from Kevin Watson of My Own Coach, a great company we have the privilege of working with on many leadership and team development initiatives; here Kevin offers some thoughtful reminders of what success looks like when giving feedback.



We're not very good at feedback, are we? We tend to give feedback by reflex, often using outdated feedback models we've taken from significant adults in our lives!
I find people fall into three categories when giving feedback:

Critical - never happy, always finding something to complain about, hard on people. Generally believes that you have to keep on top of people to get results. 

Nice - wants to be mates with his people, likes to entertain and have a laugh. Feedback is likely to be vague and useless.

Absent - never says much, expects people to get on with it. Believes that giving people a salary is feedback enough.

Then there are some people who've been taught the feedback sandwich. You know the one, say something nice, deliver criticism, say something nice. I've heard praise described as the bread with criticism described as the meat. Imagine what that says…that the negative part of the feedback is the most important part!!
Well, here's the news….the feedback sandwich simply doesn't work!
It doesn't work for two reasons:
  1. people giving feedback will only pay small attention to the positive feedback and;
  2. because of this most people can hear the "but" coming a mile off

What the sandwich implies is that feedback is for affecting a change in performance and the negative part is the most important.
So, how can you give feedback that works?
First, you need to consider some home truths about feedback
  1. people are, most of the time, hungry for more love, affection, warmth and respect, particularly at work
  2. sincere appreciation is like an oasis in the desert, like giving water to a thirsty traveller

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 feedback is the single most important change you can make to how you manage others.

Say it the way you want it! Remember, your brain can't distiguish "don't" and "do" as it is only drawn to positive things. Try it out for yourself. 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".
How to use the feedback properly

Be timely - give feedback within five minutes, as people find it easier to both confirm good performance and change current performance while events are recent. 

Be specific - start with three or four behaviours, praising, appreciating or drawing attention to them by being specific, e.g. "I thought the way you explained that by using your story was really helpful", or "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.

Shine a light - highlight a single specific behaviour that would make it even better next time, e.g. "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"

Finish on a high - this time make the comment about their identity, NOT their behaviour, e.g. "You're a good salesman and I really value having you on my team"

Notice that this way of providing feedback is about recognising positive behaviours and keeping the focus firmly on future performance. This avoids the kind of "post-mortem feedback" that bedevils so many performance reviews.
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The way to get really good at giving feedback is to practice, practice, practice! And the best person to start practising on…is yourself. 
Practise using this feedback model by taking just 10 minutes at the start of the day to reflect, journal, meditate or just think about how you did in the last 24hrs.
Kevin Watson, Founder & Director, My Own Coach
If you want to read more of Kevin's thoughts on leadership, organisational development and coaching, then check out 'The Learning Group' on Linkedin.
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