A Better Way to Give Feedback

Written by Melissa Kessler, MA, PCC

Giving feedback to others can be difficult and uncomfortable, especially if they haven’t asked for it. When done poorly, it can trigger the flight or flight response and damage relationships. However, there is a way to give feedback that is non-threatening and helps to build the relationship between the person giving the feedback and the one receiving it.

This method was used during my leadership coaching certification program at Georgetown University. It’s very intimidating to be observed and critiqued by expert coaches, but this technique allowed us (new coaches) to hear the feedback without becoming defensive or shutting down our learning. This method works really well when someone is learning something new, working toward mastery, or just completed a task, project, presentation, leading a meeting, etc.

Step 1 – Let the other person SELF-ASSESS first. Ask…

  • “How do you think that went?”
  • “What went well?” or “What did you do that worked well?”
  • “What would you do differently next time?”

Step 2 – Next, share your OBSERVATION of the BEHAVIOR. Say…

  • “Here’s what I saw that went well…” (Be very specific.) (Coaching example: “You built rapport in the beginning by asking how she was doing and asking what she would like to focus on for the coaching session. You also asked ‘What outcome would you like to have? What insights have you gained from this experience? and What next step would you like to take?’ These are some very powerful questions.”)
  • “Here’s what else I saw…” (Coaching example: “When she presented the challenge with her boss, you made a suggestion right away.”)
  • “What do you make of that?” or “What was going on for you?”
  • “What could you have done instead?” or “What might you try next time?”
  • “Could I offer a suggestion?” (Coaching example: “You might try asking what ideas she has for handling the situation, or how she feels about approaching her boss with it.”)

This technique empowers others to identify what they did well and how they could improve before hearing it from you. Many times, they will say what you planned to tell them, so there’s no need to say it again. In that case, you could simply say, “That’s what I saw too. I like your idea for improvement. I’m sure you will do even better next time.”  This leaves them uplifted and motivated to try again and keep improving instead of feeling defeated or self-conscious of making a mistake.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Dr. Maya Angelou

“Criticism is hard to take, especially from a friend, a family member, or a total stranger.” – Franklin P. Jones

“Survival-based learning limits risk taking and agility.” – Marcia Reynolds

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