Giving Powerful, Productive Feedback
Giving powerful, productive feedback might sound easy, but it is another art form for leaders and all collaborators—whether at work or in any aspect of life.
Powerful feedback differs from just stating an opinion. Stating an opinion takes into account only the person sharing it. What do I think about this work I am evaluating? How am I feeling about what my brother said at the family gathering last weekend?
Giving powerful, productive feedback takes into account both the one sharing his or her opinion or impressions and the person or persons receiving it. It takes into account the effect of the feedback on its intended audience—whether an individual or an entire staff, whether a friend or a group of friends, whether a family member or a family, entire.
Productive, powerful feedback incorporates these elements:
- It is clear.
- It is as complete as possible.
- It is as objective as possible.
- It isn’t a form of venting; it is a form of educating.
- It doesn’t dispirit; it inspires.
- It seeks not just to provide direction and inspiration for the moment, but into the future.
- It isn’t only given when something is wrong; it is given (as in, positive feedback) when things go right.
- To the extent possible, it identifies patterns in need of change, not just single actions or efforts that could be (or could have been) improved upon.
While the list is incomplete, I hope it helps make it clear that productive, powerful feedback has a life of its own, beyond the moment it is given. It stimulates thought, emotion and, generally speaking, action in the recipient. Think of it more like handing a work of art back to someone who will add layers of paint to the canvas or go on to paint more canvases, not like giving back a test to a student, with red marks indicating where the person got something wrong. (I always hated those red “X’s” and “-2” marks, by the way. Didn’t you?)
When feedback isn’t productive and powerful, it is often because the person sharing the feedback is letting his or her emotions dictate what is communicated. Feedback is one time when it’s important to gently nudge yourself out of the way, lest you communicate your irritability or disappointment too intensely and paralyze the next phase of effort from the person you hope will devote him- or herself to needed efforts.
Now, of course, since this is ME writing this blog, you might be able to predict my next point: In order to “gently nudge yourself out of the way,” you need to KNOW yourself well. Because I promise you, that if, for example (and I could give 100 examples), you had a father or mother who gave very stern feedback to you as a kid that you will either do the same thing or avoid giving any negative (and needed) feedback at all—until you examine your life story and disrupt that counterproductive pattern. But that’s where Pain-2-Power can help, so don’t worry a bit.
Dr. Keith Ablow