Ten commandments of feedback.

All these commandments spring from the fundamental principle that people have a right to their individuality and integrity. Except in the case of a special training programme, that also implies that feedback should only be offered in private.

1. Offer feedback on observed behaviour not on perceived attitudes (what you saw him or her do rather than what you think he or she was thinking or intending): 'You were gripping that pencil so tightly that your knuckles went white' rather than 'You were very aggressive'.

2. Offer a description of what you saw and how you felt, rather than a judgment. 'When you started to shout, I felt anxious' rather than 'It was a bad idea to raise your voice'.

3. Focus on behaviour which can be changed. It is not helpful to tell someone that a nervous twitch is a distraction. A persistent drumming on the table or tapping of the foot, however, can be eliminated and so could be commented on.

4. Choose which aspects are most important and limit yourself to those. Nobody can concentrate on changing everything at once. Set priorities mentally before you give feedback and concentrate on the first few items on the list.

5. Ask questions rather than make statements. That approach both allows individuals the responsibility of reaching their own conclusions, and forces them to think about the issues. 'How else could you have reacted when..' rather than 'You should have ...'.

6. Set the ground rules in advance. Tell people by what criteria they are to be judged. In any training event, let them know that there will be no report back into the organisation of what happens and that they are free to experiment and make mistakes.

7. Comment on the things that an individual did well, as well as areas for improvement. It is important that people feel empowered by the process if they are to work positively at improving their performance. If the experience leaves them feeling inadequate or humiliated, it will have been counterproductive. Because of our cultural inhibitions about accepting praise, it is particularly important that praise is sincere and given about very specific items of behaviour. In that way, even the most diffident delegate will accept it.

8. Relate all your feedback to specific items of behaviour: don't waffle about general feelings or impressions. 'I liked it when you went to the door and let him in' rather than 'There was a very friendly atmosphere'. In that way, somebody can learn from it and do it again. You cannot 'do' a friendly atmosphere again, but you can go to the door and let somebody in.

9. Observe everyone's personal limits. If you offer too much feedback at once, the shutters will go up in your victim's face. From just before that moment onward, you will be counteracting any help that you have given.

10. Before offering any feedback consider its value for the receiver. If there is none, keep quiet.

BUT: Break any of these commandments of feedback, providing that you understand the rule and its purpose, and that what you propose to do is going to achieve your ends more efficiently, with due regard to the individual.

This page was last updated on : 06 Sep 2011