When you're in a leadership role, it's critical to give and receive feedback constantly. Feedback should be a constant dialogue both when things are going well and when they could improve. What is the single best thing you can do to give better feedback that will increase your confidence and influence?
In most communication classes you’ll learn that the key to giving well-received feedback is to use a feedback sandwich. That is when you sandwich a piece of negative or constructive feedback between two positive pieces of feedback.
There are varying accounts of whether or not this approach is effective for creating change and building relationships. Some professionals think this approach undermines your feedback while other research says people need positive feedback before we can absorb criticism. Harvard Business Review wrote an article about the optimal praise to criticism ratio…which is approximately 5:1. While this can be a useful strategy, it is not what I’m suggesting today.
The single best thing you can do to give impactful feedback, whether it is praise or criticism, is to be behaviorally specific.
In my performing arts troupe, before we put an act on stage, we workshop and audition it for at least three other professional performers to get their feedback. We make our feedback as behaviorally specific as possible so that we can be as helpful as possible.
You would never hear us say something like: "That part was so good."
Rather, we’d say something like: "The moment when you blinked and tilted your head to the left, while you flexed your left foot, really accentuated the musicality of the horns."
Instead of saying: "We want your presentation to be bigger."
We’d say: "We want to see another gross of rhinestones on your collar. We want you to take longer strides with your hips open to the audience. And we want you to draw out your eye makeup another half inch."
When offering feedback try to avoid generic value judgement words, such as: good, bad, boring, fun, interesting, nice, cool, better, respectful, mature, etc.
Here are some examples of common judgement statements to avoid:
How would someone show you they are paying attention? Would they give you eye contact or verbal confirmation using a paraphrased statement? How exactly would you know if they are taking more initiative? Or being more patient?
Here's a tip: use the word "how." If you can describe "how" in greater detail, chances are you can be more specific. For example...
Take initiative... How can someone do that?
...Volunteer for projects and propose solutions to problems. How?
...Raise your hand in a meeting to volunteer for a project. When you notice a problem, write down the problem, an idea for a solution, and ask for it to be put on the agenda during the next meeting.
If you feel nervous about giving specific and direct feedback, it can help to tell the person up front what you are planning to tell them. For example, you could start by saying:
"I liked how you did xyz, and I want to tell you more specifically what I think really worked about what you did."
"Xyz didn't work out as well as I would have liked. I have some specific ideas about how to switch some things up that I want you to try."
Then, try using one of these sentences:
Before you try giving specific feedback in a high stakes situation, try doing it with more mundane activities. Be specific when ordering your morning latte, getting a hair cut, or when a family member has completed a chore. You can even practice giving feedback to a character on television during your favorite show. Put on your favorite program and during the commercials, practice giving one of the actors feedback.
Try using these categories to help you get clearer: Time, length, frequency, location, volume, word choice, color, sequence, etc.
If you want to influence someone it helps to be specific about what you want them to start, stop or continue doing.