You’ve likely heard when you deliver feedback it should be balanced. When you have heard that, what people typically are suggesting that you should strive to give people a balance of positive and negative feedback.
This advice is only half-right.
It’s an understandable misunderstanding because people think there are only two types of feedback, when in fact there are four.
The Four Types of Feedback
Negative feedback, or corrective comments about past behavior. These are things that didn’t go well.
Positive feedback, or affirming comments about past behavior. These are things that went well and need to be repeated.
Negative feedforward, or corrective comments about future behavior. These are things that don’t need to be repeated next time.
Positive feedforward, or affirming comments about future behavior. These are things that would improve performance in the future.
The distinction that is largely missing for most people is the focus on the future or feedforward.
As you begin to understand the power of balancing both positive and negative input with observations about the past (which can’t be changed) and advice for the future (which can be changed), you have a new paradigm for the feedback and coaching process.
Here are five balancing strategies to help you use these four types of feedback in a way to help the other person receive and use your insights to improve performance.
Five Balancing Strategies
- Make sure you use them all. Which means you must understand the importance of each, and have insights in each area to share. The starting point must always be usefulness. Your challenge is to look for examples in all four areas, not make something up or be overly generic.
- Ask the other person his/her opinion, first. Ask questions about all four areas. Do it without it being an interrogation – ask something like “How do you think it went?” Or, more specifically, “What did you think went well?” “What do you wish you had done differently?” Then ask about the future with questions like, “Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently next time?” “What will you avoid next time? “What do you plan to make sure you do next time?”
- Tie it all together. Connect the dots for people between past performance and how that relates to the future. This may require generalizing out an idea or behavior. Tying together past and future can help keep people from being defensive or spending their energy trying to justify the past – which can’t be changed anyway.
- More ‘and,’ less ‘but.’ When you tie ideas together, do it with “and” not “but.” “But” erases everything said prior to using the word “but.” “And” is inclusive and draws people forward emotionally.
- Focus on the future. While you want the feedback to be balanced, the overall focus needs to be on the future. Remember no one can change the past – its value in a feedback situation is for context, consequences and concrete examples, not for dwelling, hand-wringing or excessive blame. Always end the conversation talking about the future, including their thoughts (see suggestion above about asking their opinion) early and often. Doing this will give you the best shot at an action plan of which the other person will feel ownership.
Hopefully this gives you a bigger view of what balanced feedback can be… and how your feedback can be more successful in helping others create even better results.