A Better Way to Provide Feedback

Has your boss ever come to you and said, “I’d like to speak with you when you have a minute”?  What was your first thought?  My first thought would be, “uh oh… I’m in trouble!”  Getting and giving feedback can sometimes be an intimidating process.  That’s why it is important to understand the feedback process.  Feedback plays an integral role when we are learning and/or coaching someone, along with asking questions of inquiry and effective listening.

When you are the giver of feedback in a coaching situation, how do you approach the process?  Here are some tips we have found to be effective:

Understand the type of feedback you are planning to provide

In the book Thanks for the Feedback, the Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen describe three different types of feedback.  We can provide feedback of appreciation which can be used to motivate, thank, and acknowledge.  There is feedback for evaluation which is used to rank or rate someone’s actions against a set of standards.  And there is feedback for coaching which can be used to help expand knowledge, improve performance, and sharpen skills.  Be clear about your purpose as you prepare for providing feedback and make sure the receiver is also clear about the purpose of the feedback.

Ask permission

Many times, we “push” feedback onto others.  It is helpful to know when the receiver is open to receiving your feedback. We show respect for the receiver when we ask permission to provide feedback and make sure to share the purpose of the feedback. This will help the receiver feel more ready for what is coming and may help them be more receptive to what you have to say.  It’s important to make sure you are on the same page.  If the receiver is expecting feedback for correction and you want to provide feedback for coaching, you may end up not achieving your goal with the conversation. 

Develop your relationship

If you have not yet developed a trusting relationship with the receiver, they may not be able to hear the feedback in the way you intended. Without a trusting relationship, the receiver may be spending time identifying “wrong spotting” (Stone & Heen, 2014), or putting their focus is on what is wrong with your feedback rather than listening for the things that will help them move forward.  Stephen M.R. Covey reminds us that every relationship rises to its level of trust (The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything, 2006). When we build that trust in a relationship the receiver can listen more clearly for feedback to help them grow and become better.

Be conscious of your body language

Are you smiling?  Are your arms crossed?  Are you positioned behind a desk or alongside the receiver?  Your body language will impact how your message comes across. Especially when giving feedback for evaluation or coaching purposes.

Remember the receiver has the option to take or ignore the feedback  

This is sometimes hard for the feedback giver to accept.  You might think your feedback is exactly what the receiver needs, but remember, the receiver has their own experiences and understanding of the opportunity.  Your feedback is helpful for them to understand the opportunities, but they get to decide how they apply or use the feedback for their own performance improvement.

Feedback is an essential component of coaching for improvement and development. Remember to be thoughtful about the type of feedback you wish to provide and how the receiver might feel when you give that feedback. Developing coaching skills will take work and practice, so don’t forget to be patient with yourself.

You can learn more about how develop your feedback skills in our workshop Building Coaching Capabilities: Transforming Your Improvement Team.


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