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Giving Feedback

Critique, feedback, reaction to one’s work or the way they have presented it, regardless of intention, is a gift.

Mark Brand

Giving Feedback

Everyone agrees the reason we give feedback to our employees is to help them thrive and excel.

Unfortunately, most managers think feedback is about telling people what we think of their performance and how they should do it better.

Research today shows that telling people what we think of their performance doesn’t help them thrive and excel, and telling people how we think they should improve actually hinders their learning.

So, if telling people how to do their job better isn’t the way to give feedback, how do we give feedback to help our employees get better?

How We Learn

The key is to understand how we receive positive information and how we receive negative information.

When we receive feedback that is positive and builds on our existing strengths, the part of our brain that is termed the “rest and digest” system is activated, and we readily accept and learn from the feedback.

With negative feedback, feedback that criticizes and tells us what we are doing wrong, the part of the brain termed the “fight or flight” system activates, and we avoid learning.  Our brains are too occupied thinking instead of how to survive.

For our feedback to be effective, it needs to be positive and reinforces the existing strengths of the employee.

Positive Feedback

The classic example of learning exclusively from positive feedback is found in the story about how legendary Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry turned around his struggling football team. While the other teams were reviewing missed tackles and dropped balls, Landry instead combed through footage of previous games and created for each player a highlight reel of when they had done something easily, naturally, and effectively.

Landry reasoned that while the number of wrong ways to do something was infinite, the number of right ways, for any particular player, was not. It was knowable, and the best way to discover it was to look at plays where that person had done it excellently. From now on, he told each team member, “we only replay your winning plays.”

How to Provide Positive Feedback

  1. Create highlight reels. Whenever you see one of your people do something that worked, stop for a minute, and highlight it. By helping your team member recognize what excellence looks like—by saying, “That! Yes, that!”—you’re offering them a chance to gain insight; you’re highlighting a pattern that is already there so that they can recognize it, anchor it, re-create it, and refine it.
  2. Don’t tell someone how good they are. While praise isn’t a bad thing, instead describe what you experienced at the moment they did something excellent.  Use phrases like, “This is how that came across for me,” or “This is what that made me think,” or even just “Did you see what you did there?”
  3. Explore the past, present, and future. When employees come to you asking for feedback on their performance, turn this into a learning experience by first looking at their present experiences.  Ask the employee to think of present situations that are positive.  The idea is to get their mind open to new solutions and new ways of acting or thinking.

Next, ask for past experiences to similar problems that they successfully solved.  This is to help them see that work happens in patterns.  In the future, the most likely solution to new issues will be from a combination of past and present experiences.

Practice positive feedback on everyone you encounter.  In a short time, you will begin to see the benefits through their actions and responses.

The Bible 

The Bible also teaches us to provide positive feedback.

The ear that listens to life-giving reproof
will dwell among the wise.

 Whoever ignores instruction despises himself,
but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.
The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom,
and humility comes before honor. (Proverbs 15:31-33)

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24)

As seen through research and as found in the Bible, positive feedback is more beneficial than negative.  Furthermore, when we give feedback, not criticism, it needs to be given in the spirit of love and compassion.  Remember, always give feedback in the spirit of helping our employees thrive and excel.