The 8 keys to giving Powerful Feedback that gets listened to

Some call it criticism, comment, praise, judgment, evaluation, and even just opinion. I prefer the word feedback. Giving feedback in the right way empowers yourself and those around you. Giving feedback in the wrong way destroys relationships and damages your credibility. As I often say I'm a glutton for feedback, unfortunately not everyone treats feedback as highly as I do. The reason I think this is the case is because many people don't know how to give feedback in the right way so as not to offend, upset or otherwise antagonise the listener.

Many conflicts and arguments are started because feedback was offered in an inappropriate way. This might be at the wrong time or in the wrong tone of voice. Just think of your own experience when you were offered criticism you didn't ask for. In a perfect world, we could give, and be able to receive any and all types of feedback without getting upset. Unfortunately, we all have a way to go.

There are eight steps to be aware of when you offer feedback.

1. The first is timing. When do you offer feedback? Praise (something I consider different than feedback) is best done immediately after the behaviour or event so there is a strong connection. In most cases, when offering anything more than praise it is best to wait some time before offering feedback. This time can vary, but I usually say about 24 hours is ideal. Whatever the timing, quite often the best time is when you ask "can I give you some feedback?"

2. Before you start giving feedback, ask yourself what is the intent of giving the feedback. If your answer is anything other than to help them get better, keep the feedback to yourself. Sometimes we only give feedback to lay blame, get noticed or shift responsibility. Giving feedback with ulterior motives damages your credibility, and your listener almost always knows you have an ulterior motive.

3. There is a very old method of dealing with 'negative' feedback (I don't believe any feedback is negative or positive - it is all information for you to use or ignore). This old method says to 'sandwich' the 'negative' with two positive statements either side. While this was good advice, almost everyone expects this format. If you have ever offered someone a single piece of 'positive' feedback as was met with the response "...but?" or "...yes...and?" you will know what I mean. The method I use and teach is to give the feedback that might be taken as negative first, then give the 'positive'. This does two things, gives them the information they need to get much better, and leaves them on a high note.

4. When you do put the feedback into words, make sure it is known to be your own opinion, and not universal truth. So I might say "I think ..." or "In my opinion". While not everyone needs to know that your words are your opinion, some will assume they are, and others will assume a personal attack. (I might expand on why this is at a later time, and how you can tell who you are talking to just by looking at them).

5. At all times focus on the person's specific behaviours and never the person. Consider the difference between "You are wrong" and "The information you provided has been proved wrong". This is one of the most common errors in giving feedback. Most people have a very difficult time receiving feedback about their identity, so focus on their behaviours only.

6. When you focus on the behaviour, describe the behaviour as explicitly as possible. For example: "You made me very upset" tells the listener very little about their behaviour. "When you ignored my question, you made me very upset" give then listener a specific behavioural event to focus on. When you discuss the behaviour, talk in sensory based terms. In other words, if someone who didn't see the behaviour is able to know what you saw and heard, then it is sensory based. Compare: "You looked angry" is not sensory based while "You frowned, closed your eyes to slits, furrowed your brow and spoke with a raised voice" is.

7. Your feedback can also include an action step. This is offering a possible behavioural alternative, an exercise, book or other training material that would assist in getting better results or overcoming the challenge.

8. Once you offer the feedback, let the issue go. If you continue to raise old failures you risk an antagonistic and offensive response. Think of feedback like giving a gift. Once you hand it over, feel good, and let the receiver do with it what they will.

To summarise, the steps are:
1. Find the best time to offer the feedback
2. Become aware of your own intent
3. Use a proven format.
4. State your words are your own opinion
5. Give feedback on behaviour
6. Describe the behaviour in sensory based terms
7. Give an additional action step
8. Let go of the feedback

And the goal, I hope, is that we all offer feedback as a way to improve ourselves (use these steps when giving yourself feedback!), the people around us, and our relationships.



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