By Simon Day, Toastmasters International
Throughout our lives we all receive feedback and we are largely a product of how we have reacted to feedback. How we speak, dress, work, drive – have all been informed by feedback from family, friends, teachers and colleagues. Considering how much this contributes to who we are and who we are becoming, it is surprising how little attention is paid to how effectively we deliver, receive and act on feedback, both at work and elsewhere.
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.
I like to use the acronym FAST to explain the important aspects of feedback. Effective feedback needs to be: From the heart, Actionable, Specific, Timely.
Let’s look at each aspect in turn:
- 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’s 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 with imperfections. Be gracious. Don’t be confrontational. Take something that you can act on and politely discard anything that’s unhelpful.
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 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 (praise, suggested improvements, more praise) the three stage ‘praise, recommendation and challenge’ is more powerful.
Feedback that lacks specificity also lacks power.
For example, imagine someone telling someone else: “As you’ve said you’d 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 core 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 and feedback, the less impact it will have. Timeliness is key. If a detailed evaluation is not feasible immediately after the event has taken place, then a small verbal affirmation will help provide the necessary assurance and boost confidence.
If feedback is late or rushed, it is 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.
A good leader will guide and support member of their team. Start by asking questions and then deliver your feedback from the heart. If you are a colleague receiving feedback from someone with more experience, be respectful of this and seek to learn from them. Always ensure that the feedback is actionable, specific and timely. Feedback of this kind, delivered from the heart, will be a crucial factor in improving the quality of relationships, productivity, success and happiness.
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