Feedback Rules for Better Communication
Learn the art of constructive criticism to improve office morale and productivity.
Everyone wants feedback, but we don’t always like it. Feedback can go quickly astray if there is a mismatch in communication styles between two parties. For example:
Style 1: The Put-down
You put together a draft plan on how to implement a new policy. Hoping for encouragement, you reach out to a colleague, to which you get the response, “This will not work, so you should do it another way.” As a result, you feel dejected and withdrawn.
Style 2: The Flatterer
Rearranging your plan to account for intended and unintended consequences, you want to know where you stand. You reach out to another colleague looking for an evaluation and get the response, “Great to see you working hard!” You helplessly wonder, “Really? I wanted details, not a pat on the back!”
In the book “Thanks for the Feedback,” authors Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen describe three forms of feedback: appreciation, coaching, and evaluation. They emphasize, “Know what you want, and know what you’re getting” because “the match matters.” (p. 19)
Appreciation conveys gratitude, awareness, and validation. When you drafted your new plan, you were initially seeking encouragement to fuel your passion for describing a new implementation process. When appropriately given and received, this form of feedback can motivate higher levels of performance.
Coaching guides toward gaining additional skills and knowledge. In response to your detailed plan, for example, coaching feedback could alert you to new and relevant final rules published in the Federal Register. Incorporating this knowledge could result in better accommodation and compliance, thus improving your plan.
Evaluation feedback is given as a scoring metric, which might compare your new plan to existing or other proposed plans. “Evaluations align expectations, clarify consequences, and inform decision making,” write Stone and Heen. (p. 33)
As an exercise among family members or professional co-workers, discuss the various forms of feedback. Explore examples of how matching feedback expectations can result in better performance and healthy relationships. In contrast, showcase examples of how feedback mismatch can undermine productivity and damage interaction. With a little practice, both feedback receivers and givers will be able to establish ground rules. To best test the exercise, try framing your needs for giving and receiving feedback in the style of appreciation, coaching, or evaluation.
What happens when someone offers feedback, and you are not able to control the format? The authors recommend listening and “pulling” information out of the giver. Often, when someone gives critical feedback, our initial reaction is to defend ourselves by injecting a supportive statement. To “pull” information, listen with the intent of understanding and not with the intent of responding.
For example, hearing your proposal, another colleague offers, “I completely disagree with your plan.” The reviewer goes on to explain three points to support his disapproval. Listening and not responding, you focus your mind on the information. Of interest, you’ve never considered the third consequence and gain important information. After the conversation, you realize that all concerns can be addressed with additional accommodation. If you had immediately responded defensively to the person’s statement, you would have deprived yourself of deeper learning.
Feedback is a 3-Step Process
Imagine reaching out to your colleague for a first draft review stating, “Can you please give me some appreciation form of
feedback so I can further develop my concepts?” This will help prompt your reviewer to better address your needs. Your colleague’s response may acknowledge the credibility of your work and support you to continue. Once your report gains detail, you reach out with, “I’d like some coaching here. Can you please review this plan and tell me what more I need to know or do?” Finally, you may reach out asking, “Help me evaluate this plan. How does it compare to our current standard or other proposals?”
As a giver of feedback, consider framing your responses with the type of advice given. You could report, “I really appreciate your work and believe it is important. Do you want me to give any coaching and/or evaluation feedback?” For the person seeking coaching or evaluation, you’ve opened the door. This type of exchange is less likely to cause misunderstandings that may damage relationships.
Introduce a feedback conversation at home and at work. Use examples of matching and mismatching expectations. This exercise promises to improve what you do while strengthening relationships.
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