Can Non-Factual Information be Offered Effectively as Feedback?
We have thus far offered a formula of effective feedback that is outlined by the acronym INFO. Under this model, feedback must be desired (Inquire), Neutral, Factual and Observable. We have stressed that effective feedback is not a matter of opinion, but a mirror held up to the person receiving the feedback, and offering factual information the recipient may not be aware of.
Having said all of this, we now suggest that you can offer a different type of non-factual feedback, with caution. First look back to the prior blog on reasons to give feedback. (http://www.mclarencoaching.com/are-you-ready-to-give-feedback) If you are going to offer non-factual information, it should still be done only as a way to offer information to the recipient as a gift – not as a way to criticize them or to make you feel better. So you must still inquire if they want feedback and be neutral in your delivery (the first two steps of the INFO model).
The type of non-factual feedback you might offer another is your “experience” of the person or their behavior. The word “experience” in this context refers to how something comes across to you. For example, you might “experience” a sunset as peaceful or beautiful. You might “experience” a certain movie as exciting or you might experience it as boring. As you can see, “experience” gets into a decidedly non-factual realm as different people could have different experiences of a sunset or a movie. So why would someone want to hear your experience of them? It is because human beings cannot see how they appear to others. This is why we refer to feedback as a mirror. Not only might you reflect what you see and hear (factual evidence), you can also reflect what you experience.
“Experience” feedback is useful, for example, if you are the recipient’s boss or spouse because that person may want or need to know your experience of how he comes across to you. Another reason “experience” feedback can be useful is because sometimes the experience of one person is similar to the experience of others. Of course, we also know that very often the experience of one person is quite different from that of another. So in giving experience feedback, be sure to give it in a neutral and non-attached way, recognizing that you may experience your recipient in a particular way that others do not.
Once you have asked yourself if you are neutral in your desire to offer feedback and have discovered that your recipient does want your feedback, if you feel your experience would assist him in reaching his goals, you can offer this type of feedback. It might sound like this, “My experience of listening to you is that you are a humorous speaker” or, “I experience you as a nervous speaker.” Note also that you are phrasing it as “my experience of you…” vs. making a bolder assertion like, “You are a nervous speaker.” The latter phrasing will put people on their guard and also may very well be untrue.
What might be the value of this type of feedback? There are many types of information that, in our effort to achieve our goals, we need. Often the needed information is how we are coming across to other people. For example, you may have a customer service provider who believes she is jovial and humorous. But this person may be experienced by most people as loud and obnoxious. In her quest to be the best possible customer service provider, this person may want to know that some people are experiencing her in this way since this is arguably not the experience a customer service provider would want customers to have.
So you might, after getting permission to give feedback and making sure you are not upset about the situation (which might keep you from being neutral), say, “Jane, I can see that your desire is to help our customers. And in that vein, I wanted to let you know that at times you seem to me a little overbearing. I fear that in your effort to establish rapport with others by joking, you may actually be pushing some people away.” Note that in addition to stating this as your own experience of her, the valuable thing you are doing is backing up your experience of her (overbearing) with evidence/why you feel that way (her joking). If you don’t do this, the person may feel frustrated at not knowing what to change. You will also want to phrase this as the beginning of a conversation, so that Jane can ask questions about what you are seeing or hearing that is giving you that impression.
“Experience” feedback can be particularly valuable in certain situations. If I am giving a speech and 20 of the 25 people experience me as “nervous,” especially if I do not experience myself that way, this is very good information for me. And even more valuable will be if those people can cite evidence – “you play with your hands” or “you pace back and forth” or “you don’t make eye contact.”
I was in a group coach training once and delivered a short piece to a group in which one of the participants, when it came time to offer feedback said to me, “you look upwards at times and it makes me feel you are not connected with me.” This was great feedback because I didn’t know I was doing that behavior. And even once I knew I was doing it, I didn’t know that it might make some people feel disconnected from me. Even so, before I decided whether to change it, I also asked myself, “Is this something that I feel needs to be changed?” I also asked several other people in my groups if they noticed the behavior and how they interpreted it (i.e., their “experience” of it).
“Experience” feedback is very useful. If you give it for the right reasons, with permission, you can support others in making change beyond where they can go on their own. It is also something you may wish to seek out from others.