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Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Giving and receiving feedback

by Angela Robson of Nicholson Consultancy

In this article we are going to look at giving feedback, which (if used correctly) is a tool anybody can use, at any time, with no cost (other than time), that will make definite, long term improvements to the business. It can be used to correct behaviour or to praise good performance. But like any tool there is a right and wrong way to use it.

The RIGHT way:
  1. Remember the reason for giving feedback is to correct an individuals behaviour - not to vent your emotion.
  2. Describe the specific behaviours / results you have observed, and explain the impact on the business, the team and you.
  3. Check your observations are correct
  4. Are there any mitigating circumstances ( remember to actively listen)
  5. Describe the behaviours / results you are looking for (be accurate and concise)
  6. Together, search for a solution
  7. Check the individual will do it (beware of “I’ll try”, which translates as, “I’m not going to do it”)
  8. Thank them in advance
  9. Give regular updates and stay focused on their behaviour / results.

The process for giving feedback on good performance is very similar:

  1. Describe the specific behaviours / results you are praising
  2. Explain how you feel about the results / behaviours
  3. Look at how the outcome was achieved and how it can be applied in other situations
  4. Thank them, and give further encouragement

For any feedback to be successful it needs to be specific, descriptive and factual, and delivered in a non-judgemental manner. You need to focus on the actual behaviours and results, not the individual. If necessary prepare beforehand and gather any information / evidence you need.
Be careful though, feedback will fail if you use any sort of:

  • Personal criticism e.g. “you’re not good enough” or “you’re too sloppy at work” - it will
    make them defensive
  • Assumptions about a person’s mental state e.g. “you’ve a bad attitude” or “you’re lazy” – this will make them both resentful and defensive
  • Generalisations e.g. “you’re always late” or “you’re always missing your deadlines” - if you exaggerate, they won’t believe you
  • Contaminated praise e.g. “that was quite good…for you” or “that report was very
    thorough...apart from the obvious mistake” - they won’t know if they are being
    praised or criticised

To be really effective at feedback you need to be able not only to give effective feedback, but also to receive it. It is important to seek out feedback (even asking for feedback on your feedback). This will help you to learn and progress and ultimately lead to an improvement in performance.
When receiving feedback remember:

  1. To listen actively
  2. Suspend judgement and let them finish
  3. Repeat back the main points (this will show you have understood what has been said)
  4. Ask for specifics
  5. If necessary gather further information from other people
  6. Decide what you want to do next

Remember that if you ask for feedback, then you need to accept what you hear and don’t begin to defend yourself. You need to understand that this is their observation. You don’t have to believe it, or act upon it, but you must listen to them openly. If you begin to defend your actions, others may stop telling you the truth.


We have included below our all time top ten tips for giving feedback.


Top 10 Feedback Tips

  1. Consider the business reasons for giving feedback
  2. Make it timely
  3. Praise in public, criticise in private
  4. Keep it simple
  5. Put it in context
  6. Focus on behaviour / results, not personality
  7. Use objective information, not just your own opinion
  8. Focus on the future
  9. Listen to the other person’s point of view
  10. Don’t overdo it!


Angela Robson is a Director of Nicholson Consultancy Limited, specialising in Business Strategy and Lean Thinking. Angela contributes to the e-zine, “Better Today”, with information for those who are interested in making improvements in their business. If you’re interested in Lean Manufacturing, visit Nicholson Consultancy’s blog, Manufacturing Times.

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