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How to Give Valuable and Potent Feedback
Some call it criticism, I prefer a much less critical word - feedback. One of the most common reasons for communicating is to give feedback, to let people know how well we think they are doing. Yet, surprisingly few of us know how to give feedback in just the right way. Many conflicts begin simply because feedback was given and taken inappropriately - just think, when was the last time you argued ABOUT arguing or you got upset because of the WAY something was said to you? Giving feedback well is a simple six step technique you can master in a few minutes and use to a great benefit any time. Learn how it works, try it for a few days and you will see for yourself the difference it makes in your relationships.
FIRST, right as you are about to say something, become aware of your intent by asking yourself: "What's my intent in wanting to give this feedback?" All too often the real reason behind wanting to say something is to get attention or to blame or to shift responsibility or simply to dissipate emotional energy. This is especially true in groups, where the real intent (often subconscious) of speaking is often simply to be noticed. The appropriate intent when giving feedback is - you guessed it, to give feedback.
SECOND, pause for a moment to consider if this is the right time to give this feedback. Often the best time for the feedback is immediately after the behavior so that they get connected strongly. But sometimes, it is best to wait for a more opportune moment if either one of you is in a negative state. Or if you simply don't have the permission to give the feedback (what a concept! - asking for the permission before unloading your mind - try it, it will save you from many fights). The best time to ask your roommate about unpaid house bills is NOT when he's frantically looking for an exit off the highway.
THIRD, there is a specific format of sequencing your feedback that has been tested by the collective wisdom of millions of people. Start by 1. saying what was done well and then, 2. say what can be improved. The reason you give encouraging feedback first is to create strong rapport. Then, coming from the place of deep agreement, it is much easier for others to handle your suggestions for improvement. Listen to the difference in these two: "Your third step was done wrong" versus "Your second step was done just right, and your third step can be done even better." Which feedback is it easier for you to accept and act upon?
FOURTH, when putting your feedback into words, say explicitly that it is your opinion, your point of view, not a universal truth. Use "I think" or "In my opinion". Even when speaking about something that is trivially obvious to you, e.g. that the Earth is round, it is never as obvious to the recipient or they would have thought that in the first place. Not everyone needs to be explicitly told that your words are your opinion, some will assume they are. (One of the thinking dimensions we have is external-internal reference; externally referenced people will tend to take your words as universal truth, while internally referenced people will assume you are always giving your opinions; I will explore this and other thinking patterns in future articles). As a rule, it is safer to err on the side of explicitly stating that your words are your opinion.
FIFTH, when focusing on what can be improved, always separate behavior from the person. Compare: "You are wrong" to "You can change the behavior you did to something that will work even better". If you heard that, which one would be easier for you to accept peacefully? The latter one, of course. Never give feedback at the identity level until you have been trained how to do that. People are capable of appropriately handling feedback at the level of identity very rarely. Most feel compelled to defend immediately. So, always stick to the behavior level, until you really know what you are doing (yes, it is possible to give feedback at every level - enlightened masters guide their students at the spiritual level, but then they have 20-30 years of 10+ hours/day personal growth experience).
SIXTH, useful feedback is the one that's actionable. Compare: "That was really upsetting" to "When you gave a slice of orange to everyone, but me, I felt left out and upset". If you heard the former, would you know what to do? No. But you would know if you heard the latter. Actionable feedback is specific and sensory based - what did you see, hear and feel. That offers the recipient an opportunity to become aware of your sensory perceptions, yet to formulate her own conclusions. And of course, having the recipient generate insight on her own is the easiest way to create change.
I took a long time to describe these five steps to giving feedback well, because it is important that you understand them well. To summarize, the five steps are: 1. become aware of your intent, 2. find the best time, 3. use the proven two step format, 4. state that your words are your opinion, 5. focus on giving feedback at the behavior level, 6. give actionable feedback. With just a little practice, these five steps quickly integrate into your daily speech, and rapidly empower your relationships, supporting you and everyone around you in personal growth.
You’ve just read TIP #82 FOR CREATING AN EXTRAORDINARY AND MEANINGFUL LIFE brought to you by Holographic University. To get the next Tip visit us at:
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May You Be Happy!
- Arman Darini, Ph.D.
About the Author: Arman Darini, Ph.D. is the director of Holographic University, the author of weekly Tips for Creating an Extraordinary and Meaningful Life, and a certified international NLP Trainer. As the leader of a dynamic team of Life Trainers and Coaches, Arman's motto is "I don't believe in your limitations". To learn more about Arman, visit ArmanDarini.com