How to Give Feedback, Part III

This blog series is on how to give useful feedback. We are working through the following model. Because feedback is just information, this model is appropriately called INFO:

Inquire: The first step always is to find out if your feedback is wanted.

Neutral: Next, ask yourself why you are offering feedback and make sure your motivation is to convey useful information, and not to be vindictive or judgmental. (See prior blog [] for useful and non-useful reasons for giving feedback.)

Factual: While opinion feedback can be useful in some situations, to have it be effective and neutral, be sure your feedback is factual.

Observable: Finally, feedback should be on something that you have observed and not something that you have heard about or imagine may have happened.

Today’s blog is on the third element, “factual.”

3. Factual – Here is where we look at what feedback actually is. Feedback is information. Information is “that light is green;” “It’s September 19, 2014;” “you agreed to be here at 9, but you arrived at 9:15.” The human tendency is to insert opinions and interpretations to our recitation of facts. For example, in the last example rather than deliver facts, we might say, “You were late today; you are always late; you are unreliable and people can’t trust you.” That is not feedback. That is your opinion.wizard

Here’s another example from Toastmasters. There is a “Wizard of AH’s” at Toastmasters (cute, right?), whose sole function it is to listen, count, and then report to the speaker how many times he said “ah,” or “um.” That’s it. The Wizard does not say, “you are a nervous speaker,” or “you are not very focused,” or “you obviously don’t remember your speech very well.” Just, “you said ‘ah,’ 17 times.” That is feedback – just the facts, as noticed by one person, who is holding up a mirror.

This may sound simple, but for most people it is not. From my own personal life, if I watch my teenage son come home in the afternoon, play on his phone, eat dinner, work out and get to his homework at 10 pm, and have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, my tendency is to say, “that’s because you went to bed too late.” If he does not turn his homework in on time or it is subpar, I might say, “Well, you don’t manage your time well.” But when I am paying attention and clear on my desire to offer him feedback that he can use, I will say, “do you want to hear what I noticed?” And if he does (step one – “inquire”), I tell him, “You got home at 4; you played on your phone until 6; you ate dinner; you worked out until 10 and then you started your homework.” This holding a mirrormay seem obvious to you, but often to the person doing it, it is not. Feedback is a way to help others become more conscious of their behavior. Feedback is a mirror and it is important in part because we cannot see ourselves. As such, it is abundantly valuable to hear how others are seeing us.

Why is it more valuable to state your observation than saying, “You don’t manage your time well?” The most effective and sustainable problem-solving there is occurs when we find our own answers. This is true for you, for me, for our teenagers and for our employees. When you offer feedback about what you are noticing, if the person is motivated to change, you have given them valuable information they need to help them change. When people find their own answers, they commit much more fully to those answers. They don’t find their own answers by you telling them what to do. I am sorry; I know that is a disappointment to some of you. It certainly was to me.

Observe the facts and report them neutrally if the person wants them. See what happens.

Post: There is also slightly different feedback that I don’t recommend you use until you become far more accomplished with this formula. That is more along the lines of opinion feedback. I call it “experience feedback.” We will discuss this in a future blog

About the Author

Picture of Cami McLaren

Cami McLaren

is the owner of McLaren Coaching. She has been coaching professionals and leaders since early 2008. She runs Transformative Coaching Essentials, a coach training program that produces first rate Professional Coaches and "Coach-Style Leaders." She coaches individually and works with organizations to improve communication, time management, productivity and ultimately bring greater results.

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