How to structure feedback for optimal improvement
Do you find it awkward sometimes approaching others with feedback? Is there a relationship in your life that you think could be improved? Do you dread performance reviews? Maybe looking at feedback in a more structural manner will help you take on these situations better in the future.
In both my personal and professional, I have explored the concept of feedback and its power in a community. One can see feedback cycles all the time; in change management, mentorship, performance appraisals, etc. After implementing a few feedback mechanisms with friends and work colleagues, some patterns emerged to me.
I have found that the most effective feedback comes from two-way communication facilitated in a three-part structure.
Why the Three Parts of Feedback Are Important
There are three main parts to effective feedback, which occurs after an “event” (perceived action causing the effect on others): giving feedback, receiving feedback, and feedback solutioning.
This is the initial stage of feedback, where one person expresses a reaction they have had to someone else.
Importance: The goal of giving feedback with the most impact is one that looks to allow an opportunity to improve the lives of both the giver and the receiver. Giving feedback allows you as a leader to become better by connecting with those around you, expressing your vantage, and joining others in a journey to elevating the communal emotional Intelligence. Feedback can be done for both effective (positive) and ineffective (negative) behaviors.
Here, the person being addressed clarifies and understands the feedback giver’s vantage.
Importance: Everything you do in the presence of others creates an effect. You will want to use that effect to your advantage to influence those around you. Receiving feedback is the opportunity to see what effect your actions have on other people and prime corrective actions.
The final part of feedback is coming to an agreement on the way forward (can be interpreted as “recommendation” as well, but the difference in approach is described below).
Importance: By learning from the reactions of others, you can become a better influencer and a better leader. Without finding a better path forward, both parties will simply repeat the same behaviors.
Part One: Giving Feedback
Giving someone feedback can be done in many ways, but I have seen the best effect when structured this way:
Identify the behavior the person did/does
Explain the impact it has on you
First, it is important to note that good feedback identifies exactly what you saw, heard, or physically felt when interacting. This allows the person to know what behavior you are referring to.
Second, you can only explain the effect it had on you. You cannot speak for anyone else when giving feedback (i.e. “When I saw you throw away my printout from my presentation, the entire company felt disrespected.”).
Third, make sure that the feedback is relevant in time and content. Bringing up grudges from years past constantly are not considered “feedback”. Your feedback purpose should not be to unload your feelings, but instead, provide a platform for the other person to better themselves.
“John, when you send me inspirational articles on WhatsApp every day, I get the impression that you really see my potential as a future leader and that you are invested in my development.”
It might be that John doesn’t really care about my development, he just kept accidentally hitting the “share via WhatsApp” button, but it doesn’t matter, because now he knows the effect it has on me. Now if he wants to invest in my development, he has a great avenue to do it.
“Sarah, when I saw you leave the room during my presentation yesterday, I was upset because it made me feel like you didn’t care about my team’s project.”
Maybe Sarah really does care about the project, and she didn’t mean to give that impression. Maybe she just had a call to make. However, if that wasn’t the effect she wanted, she now knows the effect that action has on others and allows her to investigate preventative measures for the future (solutioning).
“Steve, your PowerPoints are terrible. I have no idea what you are talking about.”
What PowerPoints? Is it the structure? Content? The colors?
“Tom, I wish you would just work harder.”
Harder how? What gives the impression Tom is not working at 100%?
“Anthony, I really like your voice.”
So…. Do you want to hear more of it? Should he talk more? Or talk less? Or change careers to do voice over?
Part Two: Receiving Feedback
As a feedback receiver, this is your opportunity, you are in control. This is for you to be better, and ask for clarification if needed. As a receiver, there’s no need to defend yourself. Feedback is simply the feedback giver’s perception or reaction to your actions. Just ask yourself, “Was that the effect I wanted to have when I did that?”.
Be careful not to push too much to get an answer though, most people know what they dislike more than what they like. There will always be some level of trial and error in communication effectiveness.
“What exactly did I say that made you angry?” or “At what point did you stop paying attention?”
These questions can help clarify vague feedback and identify the exact action. This can also help guide the feedback giver if they are not familiar with proper feedback.
“If I had done (action) instead, would that have made you more (desired emotion)?”
This is a leading question to find a solution. Guiding the feedback giver to confirm what action would have achieved your desired effect. You can “re-live” the situation to gauge the effect without having to guess next time.
“Well, you just don’t understand the situation.”
This is counter-productive. The feedback giver doesn’t have to know the situation. They are just sharing their feelings. You can always choose to ignore it if you believe there are other situational influences that are beyond common understanding.
At the very least, thank the feedback giver for their thoughts. Silence is a fast way to make someone lose confidence to voice their feelings ever again.
Part Three: Feedback Solutioning
Those that are consistent feedback givers may find themselves wanting to add a third part to their feedback structure, a recommendation or solution. For example, “When you walked out of the sales meeting today, I felt you didn’t care about my hard work preparing for it. I suggest you not do that anymore”. Even if the recommendation has the best intention, by adding it to the initial feedback statement, it closes the feedback loop before it even opens. The receiver is less likely to adopt your recommendation when it seems that you have already decided what is the best way for them to run their lives without involving them.
Exploring the two ways this example could go:
John: “When you walked out of the sales meeting today, I felt you didn’t care about my hard work preparing for it. I suggest you not do that anymore.”
Sarah: “Okay. So, what should I do when the President of the United States calls me? Send them to voicemail?”
John: “When you walked out of the sales meeting today, I felt you didn’t care about my hard work preparing for it.”
Sarah: “John, I did not mean to give you that impression. I really do care about the hard work you do.”
John: “Then why did you walk out of the meeting today?”
Sarah: “The President of the United States called my cell phone. I was expecting his call and thought I could slip out unnoticed. If I had let the team know I may have to step out for a phone call before the meeting started, would that have been better?”
John: “Yes, I would have understood those circumstances.”
Sarah: “Okay, I will make sure to notify the team before the meeting of any expected interruptions. Thank you for all the hard work, John.”
While this is a simplistic and exaggerated example, you can clearly see that the flow of option B creates a much better engagement and culture that will most likely become contagious.
Share the Importance of Feedback with Everyone
Good feedback encounters should be shared (unless there is sensitive content or either party does not consent). That way, the whole community can see the benefit of these conversations. Good feedback is contagious!
Bring this structure into your next performance appraisal, project status meeting, or even the next time you see that one person at the office water cooler. Bring it into any aspect of life where you see that a relationship could benefit from improvement. Better feedback equals a better community!