We all know the importance of both giving and receiving feedback. However, when it’s negative, it doesn’t sound like feedback. It sounds like criticism. What is the difference? Generally it depends on the giver of feedback and its true intention – and is usually coupled with our own insecurities.
And what about when you’re giving feedback. You are accustomed to giving feedback to your students, but do you do it in the best way possible? As a leader, you also need to have the courage to give feedback to teachers. How can you do so successfully?
John R. Stoker is referencing the business world in his post, Managers, Here’s Your Guide to Effective Feedback yet everything he says works well for us in our schools. There are fifteen tips he recommends:
- Assess the context – This includes answering three questions:
- Does this issue need to be discussed?
- Am I the one to do it?
- Is this the time?
If you are giving feedback, consider how much of a difference it will make to be clear on the answers to these three questions. Does it need to come from you or is there someone in a better position to give it? Feedback is best given when there aren’t others around to hear. In receiving feedback, ask yourself if the issue being discussed that important. Is the person giving it knowledgeable enough? Are you in a place where you can take it in? If not, ask if it can be discussed at a later time.
- Prepare the conversation – Think before you speak. Think of the best setting for the discussion and the context you will bring. As a receiver, don’t respond too quickly. Give yourself time to take it in and decide whether the feedback was valid. Then your response will also be valid.
- Identify your intent- If you have prepared the conversation, you should know your purpose. Make sure you stick to it. It is too easy to start bringing in other items if it feels uncomfortable. Stay focused. As a receiver, hone into the message and assess whether the person giving feedback is doing so with a positive intent.
- Craft an “Attention Check.” – Be upfront about the topic of the feedback. It tends to put the other person at ease if they know in advance what you are getting at. As the recipient, listen carefully and ask a specific question to be sure you know what the focus of the feedback is. Don’t assume you know what their focus is.
- Identify and gather the data – Make sure you have all the relevant information. You don’t want to be giving feedback and discover there were mitigating factors you didn’t know. As a receiver, find out the specifics the feedback is based on. Again, you don’t want to make assumptions.
- Craft a respectful interpretation – Words have power. Giving feedback has the potential to cause hurt. Choose your words carefully. As a recipient focus on the message not on the delivery. Some people with the best intentions have trouble critiquing someone else and so don’t always handle the message well.
- Ask questions – To discover any mitigating circumstances you might have missed when gathering data, ask appropriate questions. As the recipient, make sure you are accurately hearing what is being said. Clarity can make a huge difference on either side of this.
- Agree upon a mutual plan – This is not always necessary, but if you are in a position to look for a change, such as when you’re working with a student, have a strategy for addressing the issue and any next steps. As a recipient, make sure you understand what you are being asked to change, and, if necessary, by when.
- Allow time to process – While you may want to end the conversation as soon as you have had your say, remember being told you have fallen short is never pleasant to hear. Continue speaking so the other person has a chance to deal with what you said. As a recipient, wait to respond. You need time to take in what you were told. Try not to act on your first responses.
- Keep it simple – You never want to deal with multiple issues in one feedback. It will sound as though you are dumping on the person or keeping a list. They will have little time to process, and all you will get is a defensive response. As a recipient, if you are being given feedback on several items, ask which is the priority.
- Allow sufficient time –Know how much time is available for this discussion. You don’t want to rush. Don’t start this when you know you have almost no time before a bell rings. As a recipient, you might ask for the discussion to be postponed to a time when you can properly pay attention.
- Consider proximity– Although you want to allow enough time for the conversation, don’t wait too long. Feedback is best when it is given soon after the situation arose. As a recipient, you may want to ask the one giving feedback to refresh your memory if it’s been a while.
- Control yourself – As noted, feedback can be painful. If you are the giver of feedback don’t let the other person’s reaction set you off. And as the recipient, stay calm. That’s why you need time to process.
- Acknowledge great performance – Always look for ways to give positive feedback. If you only critique performances, the other person will have their hackles up as soon as you open your mouth. Don’t mix good and bad feedback if you can help it, otherwise the other person will expect bad news after any good. As a recipient, if the one bringing the feedback has acknowledged you in the past, recognize they have your best interest at heart.
- One on one – Unless you are acknowledging someone, give your feedback when others aren’t around. You don’t want to be overheard. It’s not appropriate As the recipient, if things start in an open area, ask to take the conversation to a more private place.
Leadership is sometimes uncomfortable, but by knowing how to handle difficult conversations, you will increase people’s appreciation of your ability to help them be more successful. Giving and receiving feedback well helps us to build the relationships that make our programs stronger.