Recently I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of inspiring Oxfordshire Project members in Abingdon on the power of quality feedback.

I received excellent feedback from the event and was delighted to learn that this topic had resonated so deeply with the audience.

As a result, I thought I’d capture the key messages in a blog post so that more people could access them.  

Gavin Meikle -Presentation Doctor

The purpose of feedback?

I Googled the definition of feedback and found this:

Feedback: information about reactions to a product, a person's performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.

In contrast, when I ask clients what feedback means to them, I get a very different definition. For them, feedback is often synonymous with criticism, which makes them feel bad about themselves. Most people today seem to equate feedback with being told what they have done wrong.  It’s no wonder that we tend to dread getting feedback, and seldom if ever, ask for it! In this article, my goal is to help you to see feedback in a new, more helpful light.

Types of feedback

I believe that there are two types of feedback:

  • Positive Feedback - What worked/is working. This is about catching people doing something right. It's a form of praise that shines a spotlight on specific behaviours that have had a positive impact. Its purpose is to encourage the recipient to repeat their positive behaviour.
  • Negative Feedback - What didn’t work/isn’t working (and what you could try, to improve). This type of feedback aims to be corrective rather than critical. You are bringing the individual's attention to a specific behaviour that, could be improved. This form of feedback should, in my book, always be accompanied by recommendations as to what the person could do differently.

The Benefits of well-delivered feedback

  • Boosts Self Esteem. Quality feedback that addresses specific behaviours rather than the individual’s identity, given with the intention of improving performance, can help increase an individual's confidence and self-belief. This is especially true when it focuses on something that the person has done well. It’s a sad fact that most adults rarely receive specific praise.
  • Shows you where AND how to improve. Without feedback, we can blunder through life, learning slowly through trial and error, repeating our mistakes and ignorant of our progress. Quality feedback accelerates personal growth, and, if given promptly, can nip unhelpful behaviours in the bud before they become ingrained habits.

Is it OK to rely on self-feedback?

Some people seem to rely on their own judgement as to whether they did a good job or not, but if their focus is solely limited to their mistakes and shortcomings, this can have disastrous results. If and when you do give yourself feedback, give some thought to the following points:

  • Be fair to yourself.  Don’t just focus on what didn't work, also ask yourself what you did well. I sometimes draw a line down the middle of a sheet of paper and list what went well in the right-hand column, and what I could improve on the left-hand one. Read more...
  • Challenge your inner dialogue. If you have a critical voice in your head, that tells you that you messed up, or that your speech was a complete disaster, stop and ask yourself what evidence you have for this judgement. One way to do this is to contrast your own feedback with that of other people who you trust and respect.
  • Get your speech recorded. One way to help yourself to be more objective is to ask someone to record your presentation or speech  (audio or video) so that you can listen to or watch it back from the audience’s perspective, noticing what you did well and what could be improved.

How to give quality feedback 

One of the main reasons why people are often afraid to give feedback is that they are worried about upsetting the other person. This is entirely understandable but ultimately unhelpful. If you don’t provide quality feedback, how can you expect the other person to improve or change? Giving feedback is a learnable skill that will come in handy in almost every area of your life. Hence, here are some practical tips to help you turn feedback into a valuable gift that others will be delighted to receive

Intention -  Start by setting the plan that the feedback you give will help the person you are giving it to rather than belittling them.

Content and Structure - What you say and the order in which you say it is essential.  I have come across many feedback models, and the one that works best for me has the acronym BOCA. I like it because It works equally well, whether you want to praise someone or suggest an improvement point.

  • Behaviour - What did the person do or say specifically (give an example)
  • Outcome - What was the immediate impact of that behaviour as perceived by you?
  • Consequences - What do you believe will be the long-term effects if they keep doing it
  • Action - Next steps. What could the person do to enhance their positive behaviour or fix the unhelpful one?

You can download my free BOCA feedback model worksheet and examples here.

Don’t be afraid to ask for quality feedback

Now that you understand the value and importance of feedback, it makes sense to ask others for it.  Here are some tips to help you ensure that the feedback you get is as valuable as possible:

  • Who to ask? - Not surprisingly it pays to give some thought to who you should ask. It should be someone who has recent, first-hand experience of the activity on which you want feedback.  It could be a friend, a colleague, a manager or a coach. Preferably someone your respect and whose judgement you trust.
  • Tell them the kind of feedback you want - Believe it or not, you can (and should) be specific about the input you want.  For example, it’s OK to ask only for what they liked, or what you did well.  If you feel brave enough you can ask for feedback on something you could improve on.
  • Ask for clarification. If you don’t understand the comments, you are well within your rights to ask for more information. For example, if someone said “I loved your speech - it was fabulous!” you could thank them, and then ask them to tell you which bits, in particular, they found most interesting.
  • Remember it’s just one person’s opinion. We all see the world differently based on our own likes, dislikes and prejudices. Feedback always says as much about the person giving the feedback as it does about the person receiving it.  If in doubt, ask more than one person and see how their observations compare.

How to receive feedback

Here are some tips to help you get the most out of any feedback you receive:

  • Listen in silence - don't interrupt, and don’t try to defend or justify
  • Thank the other person - even if you disagree with them
  • Remember that it’s just their opinion - feedback is usually subjective and is not the gospel truth
  • If in doubt, ask for more information - it’s OK to ask for specifics to help you understand what the person meant

Are you up for a challenge?

So, If you have read this far, you’ll see the immense power of quality feedback. Likewise, you will also have a new tool to help you structure your feedback for maximum value. For that reason, I’d like to challenge you to consider where and when you could apply these new insights.  Be it with your colleagues, your staff, your friends or your family; you’ll find BOCA a handy tool. Have a go and see what happens, but remember to ask their permission before dispensing your wisdom.

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