Dr. Edgar Schein, Professor Emeritus, MIT
Author of Helping: How to Offer, Give and Receive Help
When we give or receive feedback several things can go wrong because of a fundamental misunderstanding of what feedback is all about in a relationship. We have all been in a situation where someone asked us for feedback, and we offered advice only to discover that this is not what the person wanted.
We have all been in a situation where a friend said “Let me give you some feedback” and we discovered that we either could not really hear what he or she was trying to tell us or we didn’t like what we heard. Yet we firmly believe that relationships and job performance cannot be improved without feedback. And feedback is indeed necessary for any learning to occur.
So why does it sometimes not work? Because we mix up feedback with advice, suggestions, general comments, and various other conversational behaviors. I propose in this short post to give a more precise definition of feedback and some principles of how to give it and, more important, how to receive it.
From the point of view of the receiver, feedback is information that tells you whether or not you are on track with respect to your own goals. So if the person telling you something is not connecting with your own goals you will not hear it or pay attention or even be offended.
Point No. 1
If you want useful feedback, you must let the giver know what your goals are so that the information will be relevant. If you are the giver, if you want to get something across to your subordinate, for example, you should find out what he or she is trying to do before giving them information or advice.
Point No. 2
Information will only be useful if it is specific enough for you to be able to apply it. So if you are seeking feedback give the person concrete examples of your goals rather than asking vague questions like “How am I doing?” If you are the giver of feedback try to be specific with behavioral examples.
If you want to tell your subordinate “you need to be more assertive” what you might say: “In contact with your customers I see you backing off; you should stand your ground more.”
Point No. 3
Feedback works best when it is timely when it is given soon after an event when it is clear to both givers and receivers what the goal was and how it might have been accomplished better. That is when the receiver is most likely to be open to hearing what the giver has to say and when concrete examples can be given.
Point No. 4
Finally, feedback works best, i.e. is most helpful, if it is descriptive rather than evaluative.
“You should have been more aggressive when John challenged you at that meeting” might be more helpful if it was stated as “When I saw John challenge you at the meeting, I noticed that you became silent…”
That opens the door for the receiver to explain or absorb the implication. It also focuses on what the giver of feedback observed which might or might not agree with what others observed.
By making a judgment of what you should have done, you are putting yourself into a superior role. By making a descriptive observation, you open the door to learning by exploring why the receiver did what he or she did.
feedback to be helpful but it is only helpful if it is solicited, specific,
timely, and non-evaluative.
Reposted with permission.
© Bredholt & Co.