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giving constructive feedback
problem with this approach
informal feedback
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Giving Constructive Feedback - How Much Should I Say?
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Giving Constructive Feedback  -  How Much Should I Say?

Have you ever been asked to give informal feedback to someone? Most of us give casual feedback almost daily sometimes when we’re asked for it and others on an unsolicited basis. We comment on what someone’s wearing, we give our views on a meal, we comment on a child’s homework ... often without too much thought about what we’re saying. However giving constructive feedback that is useful and doesn’t unduly offend someone is a skill and can on occasions be quite a challenge.

I’ve given lots of feedback in my working life to different people - to internal and external interviewees, to trainee and qualified teachers when I worked in education, to students in response to their assignments, to company representatives who have made unsuccessful bids, as manager in appraisals and have always been comfortable in doing it – but more recently I have found myself reviewing people’s websites for them and it has left me thinking how much should I say?

When I worked in education there was a kind of unwritten rule when observing trainee teachers that as well as giving them positive feedback – you would tell them the three most important areas for improvement regardless of how many issues there might be. The reason for this was so a trainee teacher wasn’t disheartened.

The problem with this approach was when I had to do the second and third observation and perhaps point out other things the trainee teacher needed to improve on and they then wanted to know why they hadn’t been told before.

And this is the same dilemma I face when reviewing someone’s website. How much should I say? I’m not the person’s employer or manager, I’m not their teacher, they’re not paying me for my advice and I’m not their customer or even their friend.

If I give a long list of areas that they could improve on it may appear that I’m being over critical however constructive the points are. On the other hand if I only tell them three or four points they could still have some major issues that could be preventing them from making sales or having people going to their website.

So if you’re faced with a similar dilemma when you’ve been asked to give feedback to on an informal basis what can you do? Consider these points below.

  • What do they expect in the feedback? People often say they want the ‘truth’. Uhm. Often they don’t. Establish how much feedback they expect.
  • Always include some positive things first – this might be difficult but it stops people feeling everything they’ve done is wrong.
  • Use your listening skills - If you're giving feedback orally make sure that you use your listening skills to full effect and respond to the comments, questions or criticisms that the person receving the feedback may make.
  • Be mindful of your language - whether youre giving feedback orally or in writing be aware of the language that you use. That's not a case of avoiding highlight weaknesses or areas for improvement, but there's ways of expressing negatives in a positive way.
  • Where are they now? Make sure you understand the current context. If something is a work in progress and have plans to make changes already in place – it would be helpful to know before you start telling them things they already know.
  • What are their main issues? They should be able to clearly identify them. If they can it helps you to respond more effectively,
  • What could they do to improve things? Some people ask for feedback as a way of getting someone else to do the work for them – so see what they intend to do before you do all the work for them. Remember you’re not being paid for this.
  • What solutions can you offer? Don’t just highlight any weaknesses – make sure that you can offer a solution and a rationale for your reasoning.
  • How clear are your comments? Make sure that you make it clear when something is your personal view or where it is backed up by experts in the field or data.
  • Don't be afraid to say no. If you're not comfortable in giving feedback - say no.

Summary

Giving constructive feedback can be a challenge particularly if you have been asked to do it on an informal basis. By understanding the context and current situation and finding out their expectations can make it an easier experience for both the giver and receiver of the feedback. Think carefully about the language you use when providing the feedback and make sure that you use your listening skills to respond effectively to their comments.


Street Talk

Great article, very sensitively put. May I suggest also that at the beginning of the meeting you try to establish if there have been any high impact events which may have contributed to the situation you are having to deal with? Thinking here of a death in the family - you can't see it but it will have a major impact. Example is Novak Djokovic in a recent tennis match just after being told of his Grandfathers death. Hope this helps, keep up the good work, please!

Reply
  about 8 years ago
  

Hi Keith - Thanks for taking the time to read it. I agree with you - that was an ommission on my part. It is a very good idea to see if there any events that may have contributed to the situation.

Reply
  about 8 years ago
Al4256  

The reality in the saying: You couldn't handle the truth. I enjoyed reading this article.

Reply
  about 8 years ago
  

Glad you enjoyed reaing the article and apologies for not responding earlier.

Reply
  about 8 years ago

Good topic Beverly.. How much indeed, well I can only speak for myself but the truth is always nice...even if is not what you want to hear...If you ask, expect to get what you asked for...seems simple, yes....the person is giving you their take on your question...seems fair to me....no need to hold back, I like to hear it all good and bad....and yes of course their is a right way and wrong way of saying most anything..being offensive gets nothing done for any one...makes yourself look like a a...........e......I say give the truth....it is usuallly best...the person can take the advice or not their choice...but you know what you said was true to you....that is my take..... Tim

Reply
  about 8 years ago

Thank you for this article. It is one of the best I've read on Street Articles. Very relevant and something I've wondered about often myself. I often just say what I'm thinking and then wonder if I've said too much! If I do have constructive criticism I like the idea of a 'feedback sandwich'. Something good, something that needs improving (the filling), and something good again. Seems to work well in a teaching or training situation and hope it translates well online!

Reply
  about 8 years ago
  

Thanks Heather. One of the feedback methods I was taught is the sandwich aproach and I try to use it online (not always successfully). I am however, always mindful that not everyone likes that approach, because it can feel like padding if you say something positive and then hit them with the negative I also have to be careful not to let my own tastes impact on my feedback - because I favour just hearing about the things I can improve on.

Reply
  about 8 years ago
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