9 Rules on Giving, Receiving and Applying Feedback

Let’s address The 9 Rules of Feedback: How to Give It, Receive It and Apply it.

One of the fastest ways to improve performance is to provide feedback, but it must fit the situation. It can’t be too vague or else people won’t take action. It can’t give too much or they will feel overwhelmed, and they won’t take action.

You can’t assume that the recipient understood the feedback either, even if you were specific, clear and on point. You need to confirm their understanding. You also cannot just focus on what they did wrong, or you’ll miss what they are doing right. And you can’t wait too long to give it, or it will lose its relevance.

Rule 1: Move from Superlative to Specific

Feedback without specifics doesn’t help a presenter take action to improve. – Amy Knight

We need to move from the superlative to the specific. Challenge yourself to remove words such as, ‘great,’ ‘good,’ ‘excellent,’ and ‘awesome’ from your evaluations and replace them with words like ‘thought-provoking,’ ‘endearing,’ and ‘relevant,’ with the addition of the word “because”. 

Here are some examples:

  1. Change “Your presentation was great.” to “Your presentation was thought-provoking because I never considered that point of view on that topic;”
  2. Or, “Your word choices were good” to “Your word choices were perfect, because I could clearly envision your grandmother’s living room.” 

Feedback without specifics doesn’t help a presenter take action to improve.   

Feedback rules 2 through 9 are from the book: Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better by Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway, and Katie Yezzi.

Rule 2: Practice Using Feedback (Not Just Getting It)

People receive feedback all the time. This means that they probably practice “taking” feedback quite a bit — they learn to get better at nodding with eye contact, making their tone free of defensiveness, and taking notes. However, this does not necessarily mean that they use feedback.

Using feedback well takes practice. People get better at it by doing it. They learn how to adapt someone else’s advice so it fits their own style or they focus on two or three key ideas at a time, or take the risk of trying something that at first will be quite hard.

One of the keys to getting people to use feedback is building a culture of tacit accountability — one where participants are expected and incentivized to use the feedback they’re given.

If you’ve just given a member of your staff feedback, don’t ask her what she thought of it and whether it was helpful; ask her how it worked when she tried it, or how many times she tried it, or to publicly commit to a time and place when she’ll try it.

Rule 3: Apply First, then Reflect

When feedback is given, it’s often the starting point of a discussion. In turn, this crowds out action. Reflecting on the feedback before you’ve tried it is premature. It is more helpful to incorporate the feedback, and then reflect on whether it worked.

The sequence that most people are naturally inclined to follow is:

  1. Practice feedback
  2. Reflect and discuss
  3. Possibly do over

The sequence that practice should generally follow is:

  1. Practice feedback
  2. Do over (re-practice using the feedback)
  3. Possibly do this multiple times
  4. Reflect

Rule 4: Shorten the Feedback Loop

With feedback, speed is critically important — maybe the single most important factor in determining its success.

Give participants feedback RIGHT AWAY. This will improve performance much faster than giving more extensive feedback later on, even if the latter feedback is better.

Rule 5: Use the Power of Positive

We often assume that feedback is used to fix something. It’s the vehicle for telling people what they did wrong and how they can do it better. But focusing feedback on strengths can be at least as productive as focusing it on weaknesses.

Rule 6: Limit Yourself

Most people are inclined to give people too much feedback at once. When people are trying to concentrate on more than one or two specific things, their attention becomes fractured and diluted.

One of the keys to coaching is to develop the self-discipline to focus on fewer things. Though you clearly see 15 things wrong with your direct report’s presentation, you only tell her about only the two most important and hold off on everything else.

Rule 7: Use Sentence Starters

Feedback is hard to give, and hard to craft well. To make this easier, you have to frame specific language that people can call upon consistently to make it safe, natural, and easy to give and get feedback. One of the most effective tools is to use sentence starters.

For example, you can use two specific phrases to start your conversations: “One thing I thought was really effective was . . .” and “What if you tried . . .”

Rule 8: Describe the Solution (Not the Problem)

Good feedback describes the solution rather than the problem. Too many times, feedback tells people what they are doing wrong, but fails to tell them what they need to do. Describing the solution would mean replacing feedback like “Don’t say tactless things in meetings” with “When someone tells you what country they are from, just say you are honored or happy to meet them.”

Rule 9: Lock it in

Locking in feedback means confirming that recipients have heard what you’ve told them and that they understood it.

One of the simplest ways to lock in feedback after you’ve given it is to ask the person to summarize it back to you. This gives you immediate data on whether that person heard what you said.

Another tool is to ask the person to prioritize the most important parts of the feedback you gave.

Finally, you can ask the recipient for something even more concrete: After giving the feedback, say, “Tell me the next thing you’re going to try to do.”

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