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Give the gift of appreciative feedback

December 22, 2023

“Are you OK?” I asked, looking concerned for Clare. Usually so bubbly, she was strangely quiet and pensive. 

“Not really.” she replied, a little distractedly.

“Are you worried about the assessment?” 

In just a few hours, we’d be demonstrating our competency as coaches, the culmination of 12 days of fab training from Barefoot Coaching. Passing the live practical was key to becoming qualified; it was understandable we’d be nervous. So I was surprised by her reply.

“Oh no, that bit’s alright. It’s the session after I’m nervous about.”

The ‘session after’ was billed as a lovely wrap up to the course, a wind down after our assessments, a celebration of the time we’d spent together, coaching and being coached, learning from each other and the tutors and experts who’d worked with us.

We were getting the chance to give feedback to each other. In person. In front of everyone else.

Gulp.

The fear of feedback

Feedback is a funny thing. A host of fears get in the way: we might offend someone’s feelings; they could be defensive or misinterpret what we’re saying; what if we get a reputation for being negative and critical?

And we’re afraid of getting feedback because of clumsy experiences in the past that have left us hurt or confused, or we distrust the giver’s motives (retaliation or power games, for example).

These fears – which I gathered from people doing my ‘Mastering the Art of Feedback’ workshop – underline a key issue. We tend to think of feedback as primarily pointing out what’s wrong or needs improvement, when in fact, sharing feedback about what someone is doing right is hugely empowering, more inviting to practise and leaves you with a glow of satisfaction as the giver.

The gift of appreciative feedback

We’re programmed for survival reasons to remember the negative stuff, the stuff someone says we ‘got wrong’ or we felt wasn’t good enough, so we know to avoid it or do it differently next time. The trouble is, too much of that, combined with our own over-zealous inner critic, and we begin to see our whole selves as not enough, always falling short.

Having someone point out what you’re doing well and the impact it’s having on people or things around you, can be like a sprinkling of fairy dust 🪄and it’s why I’m encouraging you to give the gift of appreciative feedback this festive season!

In case you find that tricky to do, here’s a flexible 3 step model to help you deliver positive feedback in a clear, specific way that means it’s easier for people to hear. It’s called the Behaviour > Evidence > Consequence model. It’s flexible, easy to remember and it works. Here’s how it goes.

Three steps to giving feedback using the behaviour, evidence, consequence model
  1. Behaviour – start by describing the words or actions you observed. Keep it objective and avoid commenting on personality traits.
    For example, “Last week you dealt with the systems issue calmly and methodically and solved it quickly.”
  2. Evidence – expand it with specific instances to help the receiver recognise the behaviour and context you’re referring to.
    For example, “I saw your problem-solving process. You took it step by step, checking what had happened, getting different views on what needed to be done and then making a quick decision.”
  3. Consequence – explain the impact of the behaviour on them, you, others, or the situation. This helps the receiver understand why it matters and motivates them to repeat or change the behaviour as required.
    For example, “Your approach minimised down time and teams outside of ours said they felt we had things under control.”
The feedback model in action

Here are some sentence starters and examples of feedback ‘gifts’ you might give loved ones or colleagues, with the step in brackets (b), (e), (c). I hope you feel inspired to give it a go and let someone know just how much you value and appreciate them.

Behaviour (b)I noticed…Last week you…You (did/said)…
Evidence (e)For example…I saw…I know because…
Consequence (c)This helped…People said…As a result…
Use sentence starters like these to structure your feedback

Example 1: appreciating support during stressful times

“I’m so grateful for the support you’ve given me whilst my husband’s been ill (b). I found it especially helpful when you picked up the kids and planned fun things for them to do at yours after school (e). It helped them see life is not all bad even though dad’s poorly, and they’ve felt safe, knowing someone is there for them when I couldn’t be (c).”

Example 2: recognising someone taking steps to help themselves

“I’ve noticed you’ve been making an effort to get out and do things, even if it means pushing yourself out of your comfort zone (b). Like last week, when the weather was really bad, you still made the effort to go back to try the choir for a second time (e). You seem much happier and more confident in yourself as a result (c).”

Example 3: acknowledging someone acting on feedback

“You’ve really taken on board what we discussed about providing greater clarity for your team (b). They tell me you now routinely talk to them about objectives and you’ve increased the amount of feedback you give (e). This has created a more focused and motivated team, and it comes through in your results (c).”

***

So what happened on that feedback session with my fellow coaches? 

It was such an impactful gift; over a decade ago, yet I remember it clearly. A bit awkward at first since most of us are unaccustomed to hearing words of appreciation and it can feel strange to be the centre of positive attention, but it was joyous to tell Clare and the others how they had made a difference to me and hear their words of encouragement in return. Their feedback gave me the confidence to set up Inspires Coaching for which I am eternally grateful.

About me

I’m Celia Clark. I’m a career development coach based in the dreaming spires of Oxford. I help you think clearly about your job, in all its ups and downs, so you can be happy and successful in your work.

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