By Guest Contributor Simon Day, Toastmasters International
When we use the term ‘feedback’ at work we usually think of the formal process. However, on any day of week we‘ll give feedback, receive it from someone else and possibly replay that feedback in our minds. As human beings we constantly confirm our opinions of others or allow those of others (or our own negative thoughts) to reaffirm what we think about ourselves.
Considering that feedback contributes so much to who we are and who we are becoming, I find it staggering so little attention is paid to how effectively we deliver, receive and act on feedback.
Given this, I’d like to share four simple yet important principles that will help transform your approach to feedback within your professional and personal lives. These are encapsulated in the acronym FAST. This stands for: From the heart, Actionable, Specific and Timely. Each aspect plays an essential part in giving empowering feedback.
From the Heart
People won’t take feedback on board unless they believe that the person giving the feedback is genuine and cares about them. Empathy is at the root of all meaningful human communication; as soon as we show a genuine interest in the welfare of another person and are motivated by a desire to see them succeed, we open the door to another person’s life.
The first question to ask yourself when giving feedback is this: “Is care being shown?” Ask yourself, “Do I really care about this individual as an individual – their progression, welfare, hopes and aspirations? If this question cannot be answered with an honest ‘yes’, it is the wrong time – or you are the wrong person – to deliver feedback.
If you are receiving feedback, ask yourself that same question: “Is care being shown?”. If the answer feels like a ‘no’, then take the feedback with a pinch (or more!) of salt.
Remember the deliverer is also a person. Don’t be confrontational. Be gracious. Do you don’t have to agree with everything. If there are valid statements or recommendations, take them on board and politely discard anything that is unhelpful.
We all arrive at a point where we our own skills, knowledge and experience have been exhausted. At this moment, we silently cry out for someone wiser, more experienced and more skilful to step in and say: “I can see you’re struggling with this. You’ve done brilliantly to get this far. When I was in this position, here is what I learned … I suggest you try the following…”.
When I’m teaching, my feedback to students has three distinct parts. First, I always offer praise on something they’re doing well. This brings a feeling of pride to the individual and opens them up to receive any subsequent advice. Secondly, I suggest an area of focus, something they need to do to move the work forward. For example: “Congratulations on using some excellent descriptive language in this piece of writing. To move forward, we need to make sure your use of punctuation becomes more controlled and secure”. Good feedback, right? No! It is not actionable. It is missing the third – and most vital – element.
The third part of the feedback is the challenge. This is the invitation to act, to implement, to practise. My challenge to a student might be: “Add a paragraph to your story. Highlight the commas and full stops you are using to show that you are remembering to include them in your sentences.” That’s more like it! It’ll drive forward the progress of the student’s writing, holding them accountable for implementing the feedback.
It would be wonderful if all feedback was broken into those three elements: praise, recommendation and challenge! It comes from the heart, shows genuine care and can be acted upon. Too much of the feedback either it lacks empathy or it can’t be implemented. Only with both parts fulfilled can feedback spark meaningful change.
Feedback without specificity lacks power. If the individual giving the feedback is not specific, they undermine their own credibility and professed expertise, robbing the recipient of an opportunity to grow. Generalised feedback shows a lack of due care, preparation and is not actionable, so fails to meet all three principles.
Many people talk about the ‘praise sandwich’. You offer praise, give suggested improvements and end with more praise. As mentioned, when I offer feedback to students, I do so in three parts: praise, recommendation and challenge. Whilst the ‘praise sandwich’ structure might boost the confidence of someone in the earliest stages of development, it eventually becomes a disservice as it gives a false impression of progress and can erode trust.
As long as feedback is delivered empathically and with a clear path to progress, there is no rule for the ratio of praise to recommendations. The sincerity of the one delivering the feedback is always more critical than how the points are structured, but any recommendations must show sincere desire to help the individual and be accompanied by specific strategies or actions that can be implemented.
For example, imagine someone telling someone else: “As you have said you would like to improve your fitness, I recommend you go to the gym.” This is actionable, but not specific. If that same person said, “Go to the gym each Friday at 5:30pm for one hour and do these four exercises to improve your leg strength and overall fitness,” then that changes everything. Specificity is the key to progress because it empowers the other person to act.
The more time that elapses between the event occurring and feedback being received, the less impact it will have. Timeliness is key.
There’s an old adage: “Actions speak louder than words.” If a time is agreed for feedback to be received and the one delivering it runs over in a previous meeting, arrives late or does not show up at all, what is really being said? “You are not my most important priority.” When someone is delivering feedback, the one receiving it should be made to feel like they are the only person on earth. The deliverer is in a significant position of trust regarding the recipient’s career, confidence and (in some cases) mental and emotional well-being. Timely feedback is more likely to show empathy and retain sufficient coverage to be both specific and actionable, thus meeting the other principles. If it is late or rushed, it is at best likely to lack sufficient detail or sensitivity to have any real impact.
What happens if the individual receiving the feedback is late or doesn’t turn up? It says, “I don’t care what you have to say – I don’t need your help and don’t feel like I can learn anything from you”. This creates a negative impression and breaks trust.
If you’re delivering feedback, be prompt. If you are receiving it, arrive on time and be prepared to chase up someone – even if they are senior – when feedback is not being received promptly.
If you follow these tips your feedback will be FAST: from the heart, actionable, specific and timely. Your professional life, and those of the people around you will benefit – as will the other people in your life with whom you share feedback.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Simon Day is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org
Learn more about giving feedback
Fair Talk by Matt Dean
Fair Talks leverages the scientific conclusions drawn around feedback and the FairTalk Statement in a simple way so that anyone can improve the performance of the individuals in their team. With a flexible layout, you can read and apply the most relevant sections for you in order to get the most out of the practical guide. More information.
Buy on Amazon.
The Feedback Book by Dawn Sillett
Distilled into this single, handy-sized volume are 50 tips, advice and techniques to help any manager become quickly skilled at regularly discussing performance, setting goals and objectives and providing the necessary feedback to ensure individuals and teams thrive in the company. More information.
Buy on Amazon.
Comments are closed