Feedback would happen all the time if…. – by Margaret Burnside

I’m delighted to be hosting this piece for #FeedbackCarnival from Margaret Burnside.  Margaret works as People Development Director at ERAS Ltd with a focus on developing leaders, both locally in East Anglia and nationally.  Margaret has a passion for coaching and mentoring and here writes a practical guide to providing feedback to others in a way that is beneficial to the recipient.

Feedback would happen all the time if… we helped managers with structure and guidance

Giving feedback is a key management skill, yet, so many managers I meet worry about how to do it. Let’s face it – we don’t have many great role models out there, do we? Looking at some of the TV programmes with a ‘feedback’ element probably won’t help ….

Britain’s Got Talent has a great feature – if the judges don’t like someone’s performance they press a loud buzzer and a big red cross lights up, how well would that go down at work? To be fair, they do back it up with comments, ‘that was lousy’, ‘You have a dreadful singing voice’, ‘ I hated it…’ How helpful is that to the individual? How does it help them to improve?

The ‘X Factor’ works along similar lines, quite subjective – not always helpful even with the positive comments: ‘ I really love your voice’ ‘ You did really well tonight’ WHAT did the singer do that was good? We learn a lot from feedback about what we do well but it has to contain information about our behaviour or performance for it to be useful to us.

The reaction to positive feedback can often be one of embarrassment or discounting – “Oh, it was nothing” or “It wasn’t really me, it was a team effort”. As we are not used to receiving enough well delivered feedback we can be unsure about how best to respond to it. The more we give feedback the better others get at responding to it and appreciate it as it is intended. Behaviour breeds behaviour, feedback breeds feedback …

The Speaker

A series on BBC 2 – The Speaker, was looking for the Young Speaker of the Year and there were some amazingly confident 14-18 year olds on that programme. The judges and mentors were particularly good at giving helpful, constructive feedback. They clearly described what they liked or didn’t like, why it worked or didn’t work and if it didn’t what else the presenter could have done instead. So there’s a great structure for you …

What and Why for positive feedback and for things you’d like someone to do differently or better, use the What, Why, What structure. For example:

WHAT – you asked that customer some great open questions

WHY – that worked well because you were able to gather all the information needed in order to solve their problem.


WHAT – you did most of the talking in the last meeting

WHY – that didn’t work because you didn’t get any ideas from the team

WHAT – you could have done instead was ask questions and pause more …

This simple structure ensures the focus is on changeable or repeatable behaviour and actions rather than on personality.

> What tips would you give to encourage managers to be more confident in giving helpful, actionable feedback?

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