How to Give Feedback, Part IV


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 called INFO:

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

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 fourth element, “observable.”

4. Observable – This is also a very important element. Do not offer hearsay as feedback. Do not say, “you were late 3 times this week,” unless you actually have firsthand information that the person was in fact late 3 times this week.

Why is hearsay excluded at trial? Because it is unreliable. Why is gossip so damaging? In part because it is also unreliable. The most reliable evidence of anything is direct observation.

If, for example, an employee comes to you and says, “John is a negative person and his attitude is bad for morale,” you should take that as a sign to investigate. Watch John and see what you think of his attitude. Maybe even talk to other people – don’t tell them what you have heard (again, gossip is not reliable), but ask questions to gain more facts.

Then, you might go to John and tell him what you have observed. In this case, I would direct you back to step #3. Do not offer characterizations or opinions about John, such as “you are a negative person.” Not only is that your opinion, but will likely cause defensiveness in John. You can say,

“I notice that sometimes you seem to have a tone with people. It’s hard for me to describe, but you sound critical in your tone of voice. I also have observed that you told three different people today that their work was not meeting your standards, but you did not tell them how to improve and you said things like, ‘you failed at this again’ and ‘you always do this wrong.’ I notice that over this last week I have not heard you tell people what they are doing right. You may be doing it, but I am not hearing it.”

Note how in this example, you are only reporting what you have heard and seen. John cannot dispute this and so it will be more credible for him. And you are not characterizing him as “negative” so you are being neutral (step 2) which will help him be more open to your feedback.

So now you have the whole model. Go try it. See what happens.

About the Author

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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