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Giving and Receiving Feedback

Feedback offers the participants and teacher the opportunity to learn about how others have perceived their actions (positively and negatively). Also feedback enables people to check whether their perceptions about colleagues are actually true. Communication based on facts rather than stereotypes is a key aspect for successful team work.

Giving feedback is often synonymous with criticising a person’s actions. But criticising is a delicate process because criticism is easily misunderstood. If criticism is poorly formulated, it can cause conflicts. Here, therefore, are some recommendations (adapted from the psychologist Carl Rogers) to ensure that feedback is provided in a way that is informative and easier to accept.

Principles for giving and receiving feedback

For the person giving feedback

Talk about your own feelings and your observations. Say “I…” or “Me…”.

Rationale: When giving feedback, you inform the other how you perceived a certain situation. Using “I” or “Me” stresses that this is your subjective view and not an objective truth. Wittgenstein’s “Duck / Rabbit” is a good illustration to use for this process: feedback is the tool to use to explain what one is seeing, e.g. a duck, a rabbit, or something different altogether.

Duck / Rabbit

Another benefit is that “I messages” are easier to accept than “You messages”.

Example: “I got angry when you interrupted me and I could not present my view.” or “When you started talking with Anna, I thought that the conflict had been resolved”.

Talk to the person, not about him/her. Say “You…”, not “He…”.

Rationale: Things that are said to me directly do become more personal and are easier to accept.

Example: Do not say “I had the impression that Anna had not understood the task completely”; say “Anna, I got the impression that you had not understood the task completely”.

Be specific, describe what happened. Do not judge the person. Do not interpret or generalise.

Rationale: The function of feedback is to share information about your observations about a certain behaviour / event and what was its impact on you. The recipient of the feedback will himself/herself draw conclusions from what is said. However, if he/she feels that the other person is misinterpreting his/her actions or is offering unsolicited advise, he/she may close up. .

Example: Do not say “Peter is always prepared to help others.” Instead, say “Peter, when you got up and shared your materials with us, this really helped us to move forward and fulfil the task in time.” Do not say “One can feel that Anna loves to have a leading role.” Instead, say “Anna, when you started giving instructions and dividing tasks among the group, I felt that you were the leader of this group”. Do not say “If you would defend your opinion more often, we would have better results.” Instead, say “I felt disappointed when I learned later that you did not agree with our conclusions. I feel that our results might have been better if you would have shared your opinion with us during the discussion.”

Provide the opportunity to learn from positive and negative actions. Be honest.

Rationale: Feedback should be considered a learning opportunity. When people keep their observations and feelings to themselves, they deny the other person this opportunity. The person giving feedback should consider the needs of the recipient: only comment on things that can actually be changed, choose the right moment and setting, be empathic.

In a group it is possible to also include the impressions and observations of the other participants in order to check the message of the feedback.

Everybody likes to be complimented on a job well done. Giving honest praise is highly motivating and does not cost anything.

For the person receiving the feedback

Listen and try to understand.

Rationale: When being criticised, people have the urge to explain and defend themselves. It is important to remember that feedback provides the opportunity to learn about how others perceived our actions. But as soon as somebody starts explaining himself/herself, he/she stops listening. The recipient’s task is to try to understand how the other person experienced a situation and to then consider whether there is anything that can be learned from this information.

Tip: In order to suppress the imminent urge to defend his/her actions, the teacher should insist on the recipient keeping silent during the feedback process; only clarifying questions are allowed. If after a couple of minutes he/she still wants to comment on the received information, that is okay.

This work by Toms Urdze is licensed under
CC BY-SA 4.0