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The 9th “Leadership” Day of Christmas – The Gift of Feedback

The ninth day in the lyrics of the longest-song-ever-except-Stairway-to-Heaven focuses on 9 ladies dancing.

I don’t know about your organizational experience, but in mine, both personally and in observing hundreds of organizations worldwide, most people aren’t dancing when they receive feedback.  In fact, dancing might be the least expected thing people might do after getting feedback at work.

But does it have to be that way?

Today, on the ninth day of our 12-day journey of leadership gifts, I suggest you give the gift of feedback.  Here are your questions to consider:

  • How often do I give feedback that is genuinely welcomed when it is received?
  • How much positive feedback (encouragement, reinforcement, and support) do I give compared to negative or corrective feedback?
  • What could I do today (and tomorrow) to give feedback that is more likely welcomed and used by others?

Feedback is critical for learning and growth.  Anyone wanting to advance and progress needs a perspective other than our own.  And as a leader, part of our job is to provide that insight and perspective. For the feedback to be effective, it must be willingly received by the other person.

I’ve written much about feedback over the years, so I would close today’s post/task with links that specifically get your feedback received, valued, and used.  After you have pondered your answers to the questions above, invest a few minutes in these two posts.

You’ve likely heard when you deliver feedback. It should be balanced when you have listened to what people typically are suggesting that you should strive to give people a balance of positive and negative feedback.

This advice is only half-right.

It’s an understandable misunderstanding because people think there are only two types of feedback when there are four.

The Four Types of Feedback

  • Negative feedback or corrective comments about past behavior. These are things that didn’t go well.
  • Positive feedback or affirming comments about past behavior. These are things that went well and needed to be repeated.
  • Negative feedforward or corrective comments about future behavior. These are things that don’t need to be repeated next time.
  • Positive feedforward or affirming comments about future behavior. These are things that would improve performance in the future.

The distinction that is largely missing for most people is the focus on the future or feedforward.

As you begin to understand the power of balancing both positive and negative input with observations about the past (which can’t be changed) and advice for the future (which can be changed), you have a new paradigm for the feedback and coaching process.

Here are five balancing strategies to help you use these four types of feedback to help the other person receive and use your insights to improve performance.

Five Balancing Strategies

  • Make sure you use them all. It means you must understand the importance of each and have insights in each area to share. The starting point must always be usefulness. Your challenge is to look for examples in all four areas, not make something up or be overly generic.
  • Ask the other person his/her opinion first. Ask questions about all four areas. Do it without it being an interrogation – ask, “How do you think it went?” Or, more specifically, “What did you think went well?” “What do you wish you had done differently?” Then ask about the future with questions like, “Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently next time?” “What will you avoid next time? “What do you plan to make sure you do next time?”
  • Tie it all together. Connect the dots for people between past performance and how that relates to the future. It may require generalizing an idea or behavior. Tying together past and future can help keep people from being defensive or spending their energy trying to justify the past – which can’t be changed anyway.
  • More ‘and’ less ‘but.’ When you tie ideas together, do it with “and” not “but.” “But” erases everything said before using the word “but.” “And” is inclusive and draws people forward emotionally.
  • Focus on the future. While you want the feedback to be balanced, the overall focus must be on the future. Remember, no one can change the past – its value in a feedback situation is for context, consequences, and concrete examples, not for dwelling, hand-wringing, or excessive blame. Always end the conversation by discussing the future, including their thoughts (see suggestion above about asking their opinion) early and often. Doing this will give you the best shot at an action plan of which the other person will feel ownership.

Hopefully, this gives you a bigger view of what balanced feedback can be and how your feedback can be more successful in helping others create even better results.

Written by Stan Ponz
Dr. Stan Ponz is founder and president of Make It Clear Ministries (a national ministry that began in 1973 to help people take the Gospel and the Word of God into every person's world!). Stan also serves as President of Clarity Christian College. and is married to his high school sweetheart Carol, who led him to the Lord in 1966.