Effective Feedback

Rex C. Mitchell, Ph.D.

Some of the most important information we can receive from others is feedback related to our behavior. Feedback can provide learning opportunities for each of us if we can use the observations and reactions of others to become more aware of the consequences of our behavior. Personal feedback can help us become more aware of what we do, how we do it, and how it affects others - which can help us modify behaviors and become more effective in our interactions with others. Giving and receiving feedback requires courage, skill, understanding, and respect for self and others.

Feedback is only useful to the extent that it promotes individual and/or organizational actions directed toward change and problem solving. The ability of feedback to serve such energizing functions depends on both the content of the feedback and the process by which the information is fed back.

You will be more effective in giving feedback when you:

  1. Are specific, rather than general
  2. Deal with descriptions of observed behavior of the receiver, rather than inferences, attributions, or evaluations (and focus the descriptions in terms of "more or less" rather than "either-or")
  3. Report your reactions and the impact on you, rather than labeling the characteristic or attributing intentions of the receiver
  4. "Own" the feedback, rather than attribute it to a third party (e.g., use "I statements")
  5. Speak directly with the person for whom your feedback is intended
  6. Are timely in dealing promptly with current or recent behaviors, rather than delaying
  7. Deal only with behavior that the receiver can change
  8. Provide feedback in moderation - limit your feedback to important points and an amount that the receiver can realistically process at one time, rather than "dumping everything" in one sitting
  9. Provide feedback that is verifiable (e.g., include specific examples) to allow the receiver to verify whether the feedback data accurately represent events and behaviors
  10. Provide feedback to someone who is at least somewhat willing to receive it, rather than trying to impose it
  11. Share ideas and information, possibly help the receiver explore alternatives - rather than give advice or solutions
  12. Acknowledge the receiver's freedom of choice about making changes, rather than pressure her/him to accept the feedback and change
  13. Present the feedback as unfinalized - to stimulate further thinking and actions by the receiver (e.g., checking out the feedback with others)
  14. Check to make sure the receiver understands your message in the way you intend it. Use an effective communication process, as suggested in the module on Elements of Reliable Communication , that checks for understanding by the receiver
  15. Your intention is to be helpful, rather than to correct, belittle, punish, etc.

Some effective openers for giving interpersonal feedback are:

One useful form for giving feedback is:

Some suggestions when receiving feedback:

Emotional reactions to feedback are important:

At the level of organizational unit performance data, feedback is more helpful if it is reported:

Feedback from attitude and climate surveys tends to be more useful when:

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Last modified April 17, 2002 Copyright 1986-2002 Rex Mitchell