How to Give Effective and Empowering Feedback

Business Insights
22/08/2019

By Simon Day, Toastmasters International


We are largely a product of how we have reacted to feedback since we were old enough to be socially aware. How we look, dress, speak, work, drive - have all been informed by feedback from family members, teachers, friends and colleagues. Considering it contributes so much to who we are and who we are becoming, its surprising how little attention is paid to how effectively we deliver, receive and act on feedback.


Sincerely delivered, specific and supportive feedback helps identify previously unexplored areas for development, introduces new ideas and empowers people to pursue challenging goals. Feedback that is insincere, badly put together, or overly critical can demotivate, and damage relationships.


A useful acronym is: FAST. Effective feedback needs to be: From the heart, Actionable, Specific, Timely.


Here are some tips on how to help you give feedback and receive feedback in the most productive way.


1. From the Heart


People won’t listen to recommendations unless they believe the person delivering it 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.


If you are delivering feedback, you must be courageous enough to ask yourself, “Do I really care about this individual as an individual – their progression, welfare, hopes and aspirations? Without an honest ‘Yes’, it is the wrong time – or you are the wrong person – to deliver feedback.


If you’re receiving feedback remember the deliverer is also a person. They’re imperfect and their perspective is limited. Be gracious. Don’t be confrontational. Take something that you can act on and politely discard anything that’s unhelpful.


2. Actionable


As a teacher, my feedback to students has three distinct parts. First, I always offer praise on something they are doing well. Secondly, I suggest an area of focus, something they need to do to move the work forward.


The third part of the feedback is the challenge. This is the invitation to act, to implement, to practise. My challenge might be: “Add a further paragraph to your story. Highlight all of the commas and full stops you are using to show that you are remembering to include them in your sentences.” That’s much more like it! That will drive forward the progress of the student’s writing and hold them accountable for implementing the feedback given.


Rather than the classic feedback sandwich (you offer praise, give suggested improvements and end with more praise) the three stage: praise, recommendation and challenge is more powerful.


3. Specific


Feedback that lacks specificity also lacks power. Generalised feedback shows a lack of due care, preparation and is not actionable.


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 6pm for 60 minutes 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 specific the feedback, the quicker the progress.


4. Timely


The more time that elapses between the event and feedback, the less impact it will have. Timeliness is key. Even if a detailed evaluation is not feasible immediately after the event has taken place, even a small verbal affirmation will help provide necessary assurance and boost confidence. There is no influence so marring to performance in the workplace as uncertainty.


Timely feedback is more likely to show empathy and retain sufficient coverage to be both specific and actionable. If it is late or rushed, it is at best likely to lack sufficient detail or sensitivity to have any real impact. At worst, the lack of care shown can be damaging to the other person.


If you are delivering feedback, be prompt. If you are receiving it, turn up on time and be prepared to chase up someone – even if they are senior – when feedback is not being received promptly.


Good leaders will guide and support their team. Ask them questions and then deliver your feedback from the heart. Not only will this help you to be a successful manager or business owner today it will also help develop future leaders. Developing your feedback skills will benefit your business and other areas of your life.


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