Three things you must avoid when giving feedback

Coaching Delivery Method

I previously wrote about feedback in the blog post ‘Three reasons positive feedback matters’.  

It’s clear that being able to deliver feedback in a great way is such a useful skill for anyone to have.  However, I’ve certainly met lots of people who would say that they have experienced poor feedback on any number of occasions.  So I thought it would be useful to cover off a few of the pitfalls and trip hazards that occur in feedback so that you can work at avoiding them.  

1.  Abolish the term ‘Constructive Criticism’

I’ve never understood the use of this phrase ‘constructive criticism’.  Surely it’s an oxymoron?  You simply can’t dress up the word ‘criticism’ however hard you try.  When anyone asks me whether they can give me some constructive criticism, the internal me is shouting loud “No thanks, I prefer to remain in my ignorance”.  

This is more important than mere semantics, how can you expect someone to be receptive to feedback when you’ve effectively just ignited their emotion response just by using the word criticism in the sentence.  So instead, use some alternative names.  I use the two phrases ‘motivational feedback’ and or ‘developmental feedback’ depending on whether I want to encourage someones good practice, or help them improve it.  Think about it, you can take the best person in the world and still give them developmental feedback, we have a clear example of this in our top athletes.  They are the best, yet they know feedback is the breakfast of champions.  

2.  Don’t do the crap sandwich thing!

The second common pitfall I experience is the use of what I’m politely calling the crap sandwich.  You know the thing, I’ll give you some good news, then the bad news and finish it off with another piece of good news! 

The problem with this is simple – what I actually want to address is the developmental feedback, but I try to soften it (perhaps as much for myself as for you) by adding two other pieces of feedback.  

Look, if you want people to change forget giving them three pieces of feedback, instead focus on doing the single pieces well and one at a time.  

3.  Don’t assume they know how to change.  

The most common complaint I hear about bad feedback is that it came without any assistance in correcting or changing the identified behaviour.  Let’s face it, if someone is not doing something particularly well, it’s likely that they are unsure about how to change it.  Now I know we can coach them in that moment, but we may have to spell it out clearly too.  Especially if they are struggling to know what to do differently.  Enter the conversation with the heart and intent to help them, that way you will not only point out the problem, but support a progression towards the solution. 

Delivering feedback well is a tricky business, so make sure that you avoid these three things to aid the potential for the other person to be receptive and engaged in the feedback conversation.  Make it a two way discussion, explore and work towards the goal with them. 

If you’re interested have a listen to this episode of Squeeze.

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain.