Every coach wants to give feedback that works. Every leader knows that giving effective feedback is part of their job. Heck, every parent would like the feedback they give to their kids to work. Yet far too often, it doesn’t. I believe the missing link is not understanding the true goals of feedback.
Much has been written about giving feedback effectively, and I have written a good bit myself (including here, here, and here). If you apply those ideas you will become more successful, yet all that advice misses the mark or is hard to implement until you understand the underlying goals of feedback.
Starting From the Beginning
Why is it that we give feedback to someone? Well, if we are honest, there could be lots of reasons, including:
- Using our influence
- Exerting control
- Sharing our opinion
- Getting our way
- Showing how smart we are
I will admit that I have given feedback for some of these reasons, and I’d bet you have too. Note that all these reasons are really about us and not the other person, or even their performance, really. This is one reason why I say that often feedback says as much about the sender as the receiver.
I’m not talking about self-serving goals for feedback here. I’m talking about what the goals must be if we want people to use the feedback we are giving them. (As it turns out, even if the selfish list above is your purpose, the goals I’m about to share are still the same – you just won’t likely be able to overcome your self-centered focus to apply them.)
All of the good advice, tactics and approaches that I and many others teach to “give effective feedback” comes from these three goals and will only work when these three goals remain in the mind of the feedback-giver.
The Three Goals of Feedback
Simply the three goals are these, in this order:
- Help others understand the feedback.
- Allow people to accept the feedback.
- Encourage people to use the feedback.
Ultimately, the goal of feedback meant to help someone adjust their behavior and/or improve their performance is for them to use or apply the feedback; but before they can use it, they must first understand it and accept it for themselves.
Let’s talk about each of these goals individually.
Understand the Feedback
We can’t possibly apply feedback successfully if we don’t understand what it is. This fact makes complete sense, and you’ve seen it go wrong. A person thinks they know what they learned, but misapply, or work on the wrong things and get no improvement or even make things worse. Or they misunderstand the feedback and therefore disagree and choose to take no action at all.
Coaches mess this up by sharing feedback quickly or in ways that make sense to them, without making sure that the receiver really understands the context, the feedback itself, and the next steps required to make a change.
This is why we must slow down when giving feedback; share specifics, share the data and results, and focus on what actually happened, not our judgment or interpretation of what happened. This is also why it is critical that feedback is a conversation – the receiver must have a chance to add their thoughts and ask questions so that the feedback can be accurately understood.
Accept the Feedback
It is one thing to understand feedback, and something entirely different to believe it, own it, and accept it. Until we mentally accept the feedback as valid, there is no chance we will do anything with it.
The challenge for us as a coach here is that we are ready for them to accept the feedback instantly, as soon as we share it, and yet that often isn’t how the human mind works. Make sure you have clear understanding, then, especially if the feedback is difficult or hard, give people time to process what you have shared with them. Pressing the issue won’t likely help.
And for those of you who are saying that you gave them the facts, the reports and the results, people still may need time. Remember that accepting the feedback may well mean they will have to change something.
Do you decide to change things quickly and easily?
Remember that until they accept and own the feedback, you can’t get to your ultimate goal …
Use the Feedback
The time, the effort and preparation is all meant to get people to act on, try or in some other way use the feedback you gave them, but you won’t get that unless you have achieved the other two goals first. Once they have crossed the first two hurdles, there is an openness to try to use the feedback and they may want to further engage you in helping them succeed.
The next time (and every time) you give feedback, think about your approach in terms of these three goals, and you will have far better results.