Feedback is the process of giving data to someone about the impact that they make through their actions, attitude and words. It should therefore be an exciting path to learning and growth. Unfortunately, many people dread any kind of feedback. We are accustomed to being ‘competent’ adults and want to do it right first time. So we can be hard on ourselves and take feedback as a reflection of our personality faults.
The worst feedback is personal and judgemental.
The most effective is subjective and descriptive.
Feedback is covered in detail in another topic (see Feedback), but here we will consider its specific application as a coaching skill.
Feedback may be a starting point for some of your coaching. Perhaps you notice something, for example a behaviour, on which you wish to give feedback and this leads to a coaching session.
Used effectively, coaching feedback is a powerful ongoing development tool. The greatest impact can be gained from creating self-generated feedback from your questions, as this encourages the individual to self-correct over time. Once someone is self-correcting, they can really grow and improve.
Some simple tips on giving feedback
- Ask permission to give feedback.
- If you are unsure of how to structure your feedback, use the feedback sandwich (positive feedback first; then opportunities for improvement or development; finish with a positive statement). Be careful that this does not get too formulaic and stilted.
- Use your observations, and be specific and objective.
- Avoid emotive language.
Rather than offering your own observations, you could ask the coachee for theirs. In other words, encourage them to generate their own feedback.
Ask the coachee:
- What worked?
- What didn’t work?
- What might be done differently next time?
This self-generated feedback is likely to lead to self-learning and development.
Giving praise and acknowledging the other person is a key motivator. Perhaps surprisingly, many people have:
- Low confidence and self-image
- Low sense of personal responsibility
- Low acceptance of the importance of practising skills.
So be gentle, and acknowledge and give praise when appropriate.
When giving feedback, it can be useful to have this simple model in mind to ensure you are giving good quality feedback which is likely to be well received.
Be sure to acknowledge positive as well as developmental things. You can use the feedback sandwich to do this.
Treat feedback as information, not a value judgment. Notice how easy it is to judge. Step back and think what a neutral observer might say. Relate feedback to goals, organisation standards and facts.
Observe the behaviour (it is not about the person); people confuse behaviour with identity. Avoid suggestions and emotive language.
Be specific. What feedback will make the biggest difference? Concentrate on one (or a maximum of two) things at any one time. If you attempt to deal with more than three, your message will be confused and the other person is likely to either reject the feedback or lose confidence.
For maximum impact, ensure feedback happens as soon as possible after the event.
Most of us will have received less-than-helpful/discouraging feedback at one time or another. Below are some poor feedback habits that you should consciously avoid.
- Making suggestions without asking
- Trying to improve too many aspects of performance
- Sweeping generalisations
- Comparing performance with others
- Not giving regular feedback
- Telling people what their performance is
- Asking them why their performance is at its current level (people get defensive)
- Delving too deep – you are not asking questions for their own sake but to help the other person improve their performance.
Instead, observe carefully, then give balanced feedback and help the other person discover the keys to unlocking more of their own potential.
There is much more in the Feedback topic.