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The Value of Feedback When It’s Done Right

My personal interest in feedback goes back many years. When my now-adult son was a little boy of perhaps 7 or 8, he played ice hockey. I loved watching the sport and self-identified as a “hockey mom.” As any proud hockey mom would, I was tickled when he was selected for a position on the coveted travel team.

However, as the season progressed, the team did not. It was upsetting to watch these skilled kids experience defeat after defeat. After one particularly difficult loss, I asked my son what feedback the coach had given in the locker room. His response answered all the questions that I had had. He said that the coach had entered the locker room, looked at them all, told them that they were terrible, and promptly left the locker room. I realized that the type of “feedback” they had been getting from their coach was not helpful and would not help them succeed.

In sharing this story, I would surmise that it echoes the experiences of many. I also believe that this is a poignant example of why so many recoil when they hear the word “feedback.” Past experiences with hurtful and belittling comments labeled “feedback” can create automatic and reactive responses.

Feedback delivery can be illustrated on a continuum. It ranges from a personal criticism (i.e. “you are terrible”) that can devastate one’s self-esteem, to the most effective type of feedback that can generate ownership, self-assessment and growth. If we learn how to deliver feedback in a constructive manner, we can help those receiving it thrive.

The value of effective feedback is that it contributes to learning and performance improvement. Feedback done successfully helps the receiver engage their brain, become self-aware, develop self-reliance, take personal responsibility and learn. Feedback done well can also reduce defensiveness, excuses and justifications. Further, feedback done effectively can result in something known as “feedforward:” Feedback references something that occurred in the past. When someone receives useful and supportive feedback, it helps the individual develop the ability to anticipate, be aware and effectively change behaviors in the present. This leads to ownership, responsibility, self-awareness and automatic self-correction – “feedforward” and this is what drives continuous improvement.

Considerations for Effective Feedback

There are many different approaches and frameworks to deliver feedback. Each framework touts their unique strengths however there are some other important considerations to keep in mind regardless of model one selects.

When delivering feedback:

  • What is the purpose for the feedback – If your goal for delivering feedback is to help the other be successful then you are on the right track. If the reason you are delivering the feedback is to get the other on your side, show your superior knowledge or to keep the other “in their place,” you may want to reconsider calling it “feedback.”
  • Watch assumptions – We don’t know the intentions behind someone else’s behavior. Pay attention to attributing negative characteristics or judging objectives behind that behavior.
  • Don’t be vague or overly wordy – This can happen if we feel uncomfortable or anxious about delivering feedback however being too wordy or vague can lead to your message being lost. Be short, clear and concise.
  • Know your receiver – Being in tune to the way that your receiver grasps and interprets information will help you determine the best way, time and setting to deliver.

When receiving feedback:

  • Mindful listening – Be fully aware and present in the moment without judgment.
  • Suspend judgment – Be in tune to your own “mental models” (the way in which we interpret information based on past experiences, culture and other messages). Be aware of jumping to conclusions based on those models instead of what is being said.
  • Trust – Be willing to consider that the feedback is intended to help you make improvements.
  • Reflect – Give yourself some time to reflect on the feedback that has been delivered instead of reacting or defending.

SBI Feedback

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, there are many different models related to how one can deliver feedback. My favorite model is the “SBI Model: Situation, Behavior, Impact”. This was created by the Center for Creative Leadership in 2000. Although simple, it is not easy and requires practice. Effective feedback is the delivery of a specific message based on observed performance. This type of delivery allows for clear understanding of the behavior and the impact on the observer. It is a key to learning as it communicates important information, allows for the information to be heard and identifies how to improve.

  • Situation: The first step is to capture the specific situation in which the behavior occurred. Specificity is important as it will help the receiver recall the situation and place the feedback in context.
  • Behavior: Describing the behavior is the second step in giving effective feedback. This is the most crucial step and can be the most difficult. The most common mistake is using adjectives to describe the person but not their behavior. By focusing on the action, not the impression, you can communicate clear facts that a person can understand and act upon.
  • Impact: The final step in effective feedback using this model. This is to relay the impact that the other person had on you. By communicating the personal impact, you are sharing a point of view and asking the other person to view the behavior from your perspective. This kind of sharing builds trust.

So, imagine how different my son’s team would have played if they had been given true feedback? Unfortunately, the past cannot be changed however a silver lining came from that experience. We formed our own support system outside of the locker room that focused on self-improvement. My little boy was able to develop himself through practice, determination and “feedforward.” As a result, I had the privilege to watch him play hockey into his collegiate years. More importantly, he learned how to bounce back in the face of adversity both on and off the ice.

Kathleen Glow-Morgan is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is a New York State Licensed Clinical Social Worker that has been employed by the Veterans Health Administration since 2008. She currently works as a National Transformational Coach Captain and Health Systems Specialist within the Office for Veterans Access to Care. Ms. Glow-Morgan is a Certified Alternate Dispute Resolution Mediator and a Certified Change Management Practitioner. Ms. Glow-Morgan has expertise in conflict management, communication strategies, coaching and change management. She has presented at numerous national conferences and workshops. 

Weitzel, Sloan R. (2000). Feedback That Works. How to Build and Deliver Your Message. Greensboro, NC. Center for Creative Leadership.

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Stephanie Smith

The feedback is the important key for us to communicate at each other and learn from them and able to work it out if there are conflicts then solve it together. Sometime, it can be hurt to you but we need to confront it and learn it from them.