Monday, October 14, 2013

How to Give Feedback

There are many ways to do the same thing. There are many ways to go from point A to point Z. You can go straight or take the scenic route or anything in-between. Some people like to get hung up on the same route, day after day, while others like to change it up every day or week or month.

Feedback goes much in hand with this. There are many ways to give feedback. Some people tell it straight. Some like to consider the criticism sandwich style (compliment, critique, compliment).

A friend of mine recently wrote an entry about feedback and her words rang with a wisdom that I would like to share with people. This is a style of feedback she gives that she says works well with teaching peers and colleagues when they ask for it. This style of feedback has only three steps to it:

1. Get consent
2. Use observational language
3. Leave it be

Now, let's break it down step by step and see what that means.

Step 1) Get consent. What exactly does this mean? Well, exactly what it says. Not everyone always wants to hear feedback. It makes a lot of people go on the defensive very quickly because, let's face it, a lot of feedback is judging. It doesn't take long to ask. Ask simply. "Can I give you some feedback?" And leave it. Don't just ask and then start in with the comments. That also gets them on the defensive. Give the person a moment to decide whether they want the feedback and to get in the correct mindset.

Step 2) Observational language. Do you know what that is? My friend mentions that "Observational Language is concrete, specific, and about you and your experience." This is very very important. When you start talking in generalities it makes people feel that you are speaking about everyone that might be looking at them in any one given moment. If you use observational language, you are sharing the only thing you really know: what -you- observed.

So, what is observational language? Most any sentence you would use in this context will start as such:

I saw...
I felt...
I heard...

They are very much the same feel as the emotion statements of I feel ______ because _______. These sentences are even easier, though. All you do is pick a sense to start your sentence with, tell them what you experienced, and stop. Leave it alone.

Let's show an example.

Let's say you just walked into an a bar and someone had a beer they wanted opinions on that they made.

I felt carbonation against my lips.
I tasted salt.
I smelled bananas.
I saw a golden color.
I saw you shook the bottle before pouring.
I felt a warm cup.

There is no need to add in a 'because' or 'however' into this form of feedback. You are just telling the person exactly what you observed. Maybe they hadn't realized their beer was warm. Maybe they didn't realize they had shook the bottle slightly before opening it. Maybe the smell of bananas was exactly what they were hoping for. Maybe they were trying for a darker beer and knowing you thought it was golden when they thought it was more amber would be helpful. There is nothing to argue with because you are merely stating what -your- experience was.

In these sorts of statements, you can even give your emotion. Saying things like 'I felt excited' or 'I felt satisfied' or even 'I felt frightened' are all fine types of statements to give. However, saying something like 'I felt you could have...' is not as welcome. That, again, is putting the person on the spot.

The thing about people is that they like coming to conclusions themselves. They don't want you to tell them how the story ends, but they like that you give them all the clues so they can work it out themselves. A lot of the same with critique. Telling them all the points they hit, they can think back on what they did in hopes of you having a different experience next time. The  important thing is to make sure, even if you heard several things, you separate each sentence. "I heard you pause often. I heard you hit a high C. I heard your voice get quiet during this verse."

You may wonder how this feedback will work. If I approached someone to say 'I heard your voice get quiet during this particular verse.' and that is all I say, that gives them a chance to think about it. 'Oh, I never noticed. Thank you for pointing that out!' Or perhaps 'Yes, that is a particular moment I want to be quiet. I feel it is important'. You don't need to say more than that. They will either happily talk to you and discuss why they did it as they did or they will thank you for pointing it out (without telling them it was wrong, but merely telling them you noticed it). This is science for people. Each thing they do is like an experiment and they are looking for specific results. Give them the facts so they can tweak their next experiment in hopes of getting different results if they want.

Observational language is never quantitative. If you say something is cold, well, how cold is cold? How loud is loud?

My friend goes on to note: "You might also notice that 'thinking' language is off the table in this model. Thinking language might be something like "I thought you were flat." - that's an evaluation disguised as an observation, and it is out of place here. It has a place elsewhere. I assure you."

Lastly, we get to step 3. In step 3,  you leave it be. What does that mean? You offer what you have to offer and then leave it alone. Let the person decide if they want to take your feedback or not. You might have been the only one to have that experience. Leave it as it is. Don't push it.

Now, there is a huge difference between feedback and evaluation. Evaluating someone is basically telling them what you like and what you don't. And evaluation is when you judge something based on the amount, quality, etc of something and is very self-preferential. I could evaluate there being too much food on my plate while other people I know that have higher metabolisms and eat more may say there is just enough if not too little. In feedback, you are just observing your experiences for them, such as saying "I see there are three pieces of meat on the plate. The sauce was green." Consider it like a science experiment. They just need the facts.