So, what’s the best way to give feedback?
In a skills observation activity, such as a joint client call or observing a 1:1 coaching session, we believe it’s best to create a positive environment where the individual (‘the coachee’) receiving the feedback analyses their own performance first prior to the manager adding their own comments.
The most effective sessions are forward looking where individuals focus on skills performed well with a view to repeating these skills in future client or coaching activities and also on the things that they would do differently in future activities.
By taking this approach the feedback should be proactive and forward focussed rather than reactive and backward looking. If given a chance individuals will be highly critical of themselves and focus on the negatives. The objective of the coach giving feedback should be to emphasise the positives, of which there will usually be many, and look to get the individual to improve one or two things as a result of your feedback session.
Here’s a model for giving feedback that we believe will help give positive structure to your feedback sessions:
Before the observation:
- Establish the purpose of the session & explain how you will approach it, including the self-analysis nature of the post-observation coaching session.
- Ask the coachee if there are any specific things that they would like feedback on.
During the observation:
- Explain your presence to the third party.
- Keep quiet.
- Observe closely and take good notes.
The post-observation coaching session:
- Start with a general positive comment about the situation you observed.
- Ask the coachee what went well in the activity. Typically coachees will answer this with something like ‘I didn’t like…’ Don’t let them start with negatives, pull them up and get them to come up with positives from the session.
- Don’t let them come up with just 1 or 2 positives, push them for more.
- As coach share your own positives from the activity.
- Be specific – ‘I liked it when you…because it…’ This will involve you taking substantial notes during your observation of the activity.
Making a statement like ‘You asked good questions’ might make the coachee feel good but doesn’t really give them a firm idea of what they did well and the effect it had on their subject.
So a better way of expressing this might be ‘I like it when you asked the questions “…” and “…” because it really got the client talking about their business and you began to uncover their needs.
- Be careful that you don’t slip into the negative when discussing the ‘what went wells!’
- Ask the coachee ‘What will you differently the next time you’re in that situation?’
Expressing the ‘negative’ question this way allows the coachee to focus on the future and takes the sting out of the discussion relating to things that need improvement. Asking something like ‘What went wrong’ will put the coachee on the defensive and make your session negative. Individuals will rarely learn in a negative environment.
- Share your own thoughts on what they could do differently.
- Don’t give them any more than 2 or 3 things to do differently. If coachees receive a huge list of things you risk overwhelming them. Conversely if they improve 1 or 2 things in every feedback session you will help them achieve high performance.
- If you can think of a lot more than 2 or 3 things for them to do differently prioritise your list and focus on the most important.
- Get the coachee to agree to an action plan, ideally including a further feedback / observation session.
- Finally, end the session with a positive note of encouragement.
Summarise the session in writing and get the coachee to comment in writing.
Remember that giving feedback is all about improving the performance of your coachee. Praise and support them and make sure that any performance improvement suggestions are positive and forward looking.