Why are people not very good at giving feedback?

rainbow horsesIn a job like mine it is part and parcel of the job to give feedback.  For lots of my clients a workshop, Speaking Club meeting or one to one session might be the only place where they can receive honest, direct feedback on their presentations.  Feedback that is not coloured by secret agendas, political posturing or shyness…feedback that can be delivered in a safe environment and that will stretch the recipient.  Feedback that will focus on reinforcing behaviours that work, exploring where the speaker needs to do more of something and expertise to point out new things to start to do that will make a noticeable difference.

The challenge is that feedback is often hard to come by.  By this I mean feedback that is meaningful rather than bland ‘ you were great, fine, ok’.  Feedback that is honest and feedback that is clear. Here are three typical ways people sometimes give feedback…and why they don’t work.

1 There is no such thing as no feedback

How many times have you received no feedback for a task or a meeting or a presentation.  In the absence of no feedback, the recipient will either think all is well (until someone says something I must be doing ok) or they will think they are terrible.  Either way it is the ambiguity that is the problem here. The message here is to ask for feedback where you need it.  And where you work with colleagues, clients and staff, work out where giving feedback is necessary.  And do it!

2. You are too short!

Feedback can sometimes be personal, maybe even aggressive and focuses on just the things that need improvement. If we give feedback that is personal and about which the recipient can do nothing, then we are wasting our breath. It is like the doctor who says her patient is too short when they stand on the scales.  Short of stretching ( ‘scuse the pun) there is nothing the patient can do about that.  Understanding that they are too heavy for their height though opens up more conversation about weight, eating, exercise etc.   And who are we to change someone else anyway?  We might want to suggest some improvements in behaviours…in which case focus on behaviours.  And for as long as we focus on just the negatives or areas of improvements, then that is all we see.  Make sure you look out for things that go right too!

3. Ooh – you’re lovely!

Feedback that is one-way is certainly a quick way to deliver feedback but if we are not careful it can sound patronising and may not be welcome. Feedback should include and open up a conversation. Most people know what went well and what they could do better.  Why not ask them and then add in if necessary.  Talk about what you would like to see more of and what they could start doing instead of picking over the negatives.

So how do you do when you give feedback? Do you focus on what goes right as well as what doesn’t quite? Do you know what good looks like so you can support through asking for more?

I would love to hear from you of your experiences of giving and receiving feedback…and as always click here if you would like to receive my weekly inspiration emails Speech Bubbles, helping you make a difference through powerful, persuasive speaking.





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