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How not to suck at feedback

How not to suck at feedback

by Moyra Mackie on October 8, 2018

When I ask groups how feedback should be given, there’s always someone who mentions the Hamburger Approach.

This is the theory that you should start by saying something positive (the white bread), move on to what you really want to say – apparently often negative – and then close with something a bit more positive (more refined carbs?).

But what appears to be a balanced diet is just junk food

Some people will only eat carbs and may go away having missed the message, because they skipped the meat. Others will ignore the white fluffy stuff once they hear the meat and go away distrustful of both the person who served the hamburger and the bun it came in.

Giving feedback is what separates leaders from managers

I’ve spent many years coaching groups on how to give feedback. But it took a while to realise that when managers admit to finding it hard to give feedback, they usually mean they find it hard to give ALL kinds of feedback – either critical or admiring.

Ken Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager, calls feedback, “the breakfast of champions”. And, believe me, a lot of managers and teams are skipping breakfast.

Like a healthy breakfast, a portion of constructive feedback can set us up for the day, giving us physical and mental energy. But as with breakfast, we have to make the time, forget the short cuts and resist the temptation of junk.

Feedback is your organisation’s oxygen

When you don’t provide it, you’re effectively suffocating your team. Teams who cry out for managers who can lead will be teams that are lacking the oxygen of feedback.

To be successful, it’s essential that the receiver listens properly to what is said and, ideally, acts on what is heard.

But the responsibility for this rests with the person giving the feedback. If you try to give feedback and the other person doesn’t listen, it’s you who are doing something wrong.

Giving feedback is the most requested course I run. If you want to join me, my next session is in London on 17th October.

Some key principles

Feedback works well when the giver genuinely cares about the person on the receiving end. Trying to score points or undermine someone is not feedback. It’s just old-fashioned criticism.

People learn more by repeating successful experiences than by trying to avoid unsuccessful ones. So just stick to the two thirds/one third rule:

  • Two thirds of your feedback should be about recognising the specifics of what has been done right.
  • One third of your feedback can be about the specifics of what you’d like to see done differently.

This is not about going around saying “Good job” to everyone. It’s about being as specific with your “Keep doing it” feedback as you are with the “Stop doing it” feedback you give.

For example, you might say to a colleague “Your introduction really got the client’s attention – we need that with every presentation.” This way your feedback clearly points to the successes and benefits of a particular action and provides guidance for the future.

At its best, giving constructive feedback:

  • shows appreciation
  • gives guidance for future actions
  • motivates and encourages
  • demonstrates caring and concern
  • builds self-awareness
  • develops trust

All in all, a pretty good set of reasons not to skip breakfast, and to dump the junk, don’t you think??

@MoyraMackie Want a healthy high performing team? Don’t feed them junk. Feedback strategies that nourish.

Remember, if you want help with feedback book your place on my next feedback breakfast or book a 20-minute call with me to find out how I can help you or your team. And if you know someone who sucks at feedback you could send them this 😉

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard Smith March 1, 2013 at 8:43 pm

Great article. Breakfast is vital, yes. And feedback is better than a fry-up (or a single plum).

You have to have a stomach for a full plate though. Asking for feedback can backfire – a wise man once said, “be careful what you wish for”.

Good stuff, and glad to see the coach with the green hat still standing.

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Moyra Mackie Moyra Mackie March 2, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Richard – welcome and thanks! As you say, asking for feedback does carry risks. So I go back to the article where I talk about INTENTION. If feedback is well-intentioned it tends to be pretty easy to stomach, even if the message is tough.
However, from very recent personal experience, I would say that feedback given with poor intentions (to score points or demonstrate power) runs the risk of failing to deliver the message (which may be very accurate) due to the fog of poor intentions. I would advise anyone receiving poorly-intentioned feedback to resist reacting to the feedback giver and focus on seeing the message through the fog.
I would also advise people to notice that those who give poorly intentioned feedback are always those who are unable to take feedback well themselves. Would love to hear if you think this holds true from your experience?

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Andrew Jones March 4, 2013 at 12:25 am

Your exploration of the fast food metaphor for feedback reminds me of an HR conference a few years ago. The one phrase I can remember from the keynote speaker: “Feedback on the run is better than none”. Is that like grabbing a chocolate bar, or is there lasting value in it?

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Moyra Mackie Moyra Mackie March 9, 2013 at 9:25 am

Andrew I love that phrase – going to adopt it! I would say that even on the run, if the quality of the feedback is high and is well-intentioned, it will nourish. The key thing is to not use lack of time as an excuse for not giving feedback. High quality chocolate in small quantities is good for you, I hear.

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