The gift of feedback

Marked up manuscript from George Orwell's 1984
Even George Orwell benefited from editing (image from Working Partners).

Feedback is valuable and, when presented properly, inspirational. Feedback can help us build upon the things we already do well and give us direction on how to do better.

How do we give feedback that helps someone, and how do we use the feedback we get?

Giving Feedback

To give effective feedback, you need to do several things:

  1. Start with the positives. Most people dread getting feedback. By starting with the positives, you put them at ease, and you make whatever criticisms you need to give more palatable. You also give the person you are evaluating a foundation for developing their skills. When you praise the things they already do well, they will continue to do them.
  2. Be specific. In both praising and correcting, show exactly what people did well and where they need to improve. It’s not enough to say, “This is good.” You need to show what makes it good and give specific recommendations to make it better.
  3. Teach. Use feedback to instruct the person you are evaluating. Teach skills the person needs to develop, share your experiences about what works and doesn’t, and provide encouragement. When people use your feedback to improve, it reflects well on you.

Using Feedback

How do we use the feedback we receive? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Don’t take it personally. It’s hard for us to look at a page full of revision marks or listen to a negative evaluation. We see a rejection of our work as a rejection of ourselves. Don’t. The goal of feedback is to help us get better. Once you start digging through the comments, you will find things that can help you improve. That way, your next evaluation won’t be so painful.
  2. Ask questions if you are unsure. If the evaluator gives you feedback that is unclear or not specific enough, ask. Your questions can open a discussion with the evaluator that provides you with more valuable feedback.
  3. Remember that you have the final say. You don’t have to accept all of the feedback you get. If the recommended changes don’t apply to the type of work you are doing, or if you see the evaluator’s personal prejudices in the comments, you don’t have to use them. You can even disagree with positive feedback if it reinforces an attribute that you want to change.  Look at all of the feedback critically. Use the comments that work and skip the ones that don’t.

The goal of feedback is to help people improve. Give feedback that motivates and gives specific guidance. Use the feedback you get by looking at it with a critical eye to improve your work. You’ll discover that feedback is a gift.