Why Feedback Rarely Does What It’s Meant To
by Jenna Lange
“Feedback is a gift.” If you have ever heard this, you were likely in a situation where you were expected to "take" feedback. And a lot of times, feedback is not a gift. It stings. It infects. It does not make you better, but in fact hurts you so much that your performance gets worse.
"Get more confidence."
"Be more assertive.”
“You need to have a stronger presence.”
If you have heard anything like this in your life, you are not alone. And how exactly does this feedback make you better? It doesn't!
I will admit, I am a hypocrite. Why? Because I say "feedback is a gift" A LOT! I am a coach. And not just any coach, but a pitch and story coach. And my job is to make sure that the people I work with change—FAST. I have seconds to give a leader a piece of feedback that will change their behavior in a dramatic way before they walk into a high-stakes moment. Seconds.
So what do I focus on? The change. Not what's already working. I always have justified that in my head by saying "They are paying me for change, not to butter them up." But is that right? Can people really listen to a barrage of things to change before their minds shut down? And what do I know?
After reading this article from the New York Times, I had a bit of a crisis for a few weeks. Questioning everything about what I do. But then, like I often do, I got over it and took three practical pieces of data away. When giving feedback, focus on three things:
1. Build from what's working. It's easier to grow stems from strong branches than grow a new branch. That means if you notice someone is good at something, build that into the feedback. For example, "I notice that you light up when you are talking about your partners. What if you were to start your pitch with a story about a partner before you get into what you do. I bet that would make you more comfortable and engaging. Let's try it!"
2. Try to stay objective. It's really tempting to say "I think," especially when you feel like you have seen enough to be an expert in what gets an audience to pay attention. For me, it's so tempting to say "I feel like you should change this part.." because I am 99% sure I am right. But am I? Why? Yes, I have years of experience—but what do I really know about this person and this moment in time? Instead, try "Your audience needs [x] from you,” or “Have you thought about [x],” or “your stakeholders are likely thinking [x]" when you talk about the impact of a behavior you think should change.
3. Structure your feedback. There are a lot of structures out there. At Lange International we like "observation recommendation impact". It's easy to remember and, once you commit it to practice, easy to repeat.
a. I observed you saying/you doing….
b. The impact on your stakeholders/audience/boss…
c. My recommendation is….
This structure helps you to keep an eye on process and brevity. This combats our natural instinct when uncomfortable to talk too much and make feedback too long Memorable feedback is actionable feedback, and we hope that using these tips help you give better feedback in all areas of your life. Let us know how it goes in the comments below.