How to Make Your Feedback Inspiring

How to Make Your Feedback Inspiring

Created: Wednesday, June 2, 2021 posted by at 8:30 am

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By Kyle Murtagh, Toastmasters International

When you are about to receive feedback on your performance, how do you feel? If you’re a bit stressed your reaction won’t be unusual.

Tense, worried, and slightly scared is typically how people feel before they are given personally prescribed feedback. For the person providing the evaluation, breaking through this emotional blockade can be challenging; if this is approached in the wrong way, the goal of the feedback—to improve performance—can be more difficult to achieve.

How to Make Your Feedback Inspiring

How to Make Your Feedback Inspiring
Image: Pixabay

Many people consider cutting to the chase to be a virtue, but when providing feedback, it can often be a misstep. If you immediately deliver suggestions for improvement—while your colleague is still in the ‘fight or flight’ section of their emotional Venn diagram—their reaction could be ugly. They could become hypersensitive, perhaps mounting an angry defense that will make them less likely to see the benefits of your advice. Or they could be disheartened and deflated, sinking to a low where they give up altogether. Avoid these extremes and other undesirable reactions in between by starting with positives.

Give a compliment

Be uplifting and genuine. Total failure in every aspect of a task is rare; there is almost always some part that is praise-worthy. No matter how small it is, highlight it. Remember, people can be their own worst critics, so let your colleague acknowledge that they did something well. Compel them to feel valued. This will make them more likely to be open to constructive feedback. From there, your message has more chance of sticking and being acted upon.

Consider these descriptions of someone’s performance: superb time-management; great productivity; lovely rapport building. They are all great—as headlines. The problem with confining your feedback to these types of phrases is that it does not explain why their time-management was superb, how you are measuring their productivity, or what they did that resulted in their rapport being lovely. If you miss out on the detail of why they did well, they can guess exactly what it was they did that was praise-worthy, but they may not guess correctly, and the next evaluation may see you and your colleague wondering why they appear to have gone backward. As a presentation skills coach, when I give a speaker feedback it’s important that I explicitly explain why a certain action had a positive or negative effect. For instance, if a speaker smiles during a presentation, I won’t just say “it was great that you smiled”. Instead, I’ll say “your smile was warm, welcoming, and showed that you wanted to be here with us today!”. By reinforcing why the action was positive, the speaker is much more likely to act in that manner again. Thus, providing detail is a crucial part of ensuring feedback sessions are educational encounters.

Give a clear assessment

Similarly, when you move on to areas where your colleague needs to improve, avoid broad brushstroke assessments. Without explanatory information, phrases such as your time-management needs to improve, your productivity could be better, and you need to work on your rapport building are of limited use. Much better would be pointing out that taking a few minutes to plan a task rather than jumping straight in will see the task completed in less time, or explaining the metrics used to assess productivity, or stressing the importance of eye contact in meetings.

Provide specific recommendations

When you are giving recommendations, suggest specific tools, activities, or habits that will improve work output, and demonstrate these recommendations, perhaps by highlighting examples of others who have used them successfully. You can make this more powerful if you can draw on personal experience. If making one change—for example, making a list of the day’s tasks; tackling the biggest task of the day first; organizing files in a particular way—improved your work output massively, explain what you did and how that had a positive impact. If it helps, see yourself as a kind of ‘personal trainer’. In the gym, a trainer often doesn’t just tell you what to do, he or she shows you what to do by performing the exercise themselves. In your case, by reciting or showing what you do to achieve a particular result you lead by example. In turn, inspiring your colleagues to take action. The message – always recommend with demonstration.

Be sure to give a compliment first. When you are giving feedback there is always something positive you can find and highlight.  Give the reasons ‘why’ the activities you are discussing were good or in need of improvement and consolidate by demonstrating your recommendations.

The purpose of giving feedback is to improve performance and also to inspire. Help people discover just how much they are capable of achieving and watch them flourish.

Kyle Murtagh

Kyle Murtagh
Kyle Murtagh is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organization that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit Toastmasters International.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog post or content are those of the authors or the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer, or company.

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