Sunday, March 31, 2019

Feedback Should Be a Dialogue, Not a Monologue

Feedback can bring people together in the pursuit of a shared goal. Criticism, on the other hand, can drive people apart. In many situations going with the former is the better course of action.  Below is a piece I pulled from an article titled Using Neuroscience to Make Feedback Work and Feel Better that explains why it matters so much:
Feedback isn’t just a ritual of the modern workplace. It’s the means by which organisms, across a variety of life-forms and time periods, have adapted to survive. To University of Sheffield cognitive scientist Tom Stafford, feedback is the essence of intelligence. “Thanks to feedback we can become more than simple programs with simple reflexes, and develop more complex responses to the environment,” he writes. “Feedback allows animals like us to follow a purpose.” It’s no coincidence the words organism and organization share a Latin root. Just as feedback enables the former to flourish, so it does for the latter.
The feedback process matters.



Nobody likes to be just talked at regardless of the age group of the person being spoken to.  Even though there are most certainly cases that necessitate this, context matters.  Lately, I have been thinking about how we give feedback to our learners, colleagues, and those who we supervise.  Maybe give is the wrong word to use here. The prevailing notion is that one person speaks while the other(s) listens intently and reflects on the advice given.  Herein lies one of the greatest misconceptions with an effective feedback loop.  In many cases, feedback is seen as something that is given to another person.  It becomes even more complicated when it is viewed as something that must be delivered. 

When there is a focus on delivery, we run the risk of focusing more on what is said as opposed to a process that fosters reflection and ultimately questions from the receiver.  Often, we settle on what the feedback is in terms of what people have done well, or not, through our own lens.  So much time is then given to mapping out what the feedback is that we want to share with the other person that it becomes more about us than the person or people we are trying to help.  When done this way it can be construed as criticism as opposed to a catalyst for growth. 

If the purpose is to help others grow, then a mentality of delivering the message or advice has to be rethought.  Feedback should be a dialogue, not a monologue. A conversational approach can lead to high value and actual changes to practice. Below are some specific reasons why the conversation is such an integral part of the feedback loop:

  • The receiver sees that it is more about him/her than the giver.
  • Imparts a greater sense of trust on behalf of the receiver resulting in a more powerful relationship with the giver.
  • Creates the space for open reflection based on what was shared.
  • Opens the door for discussion on action steps to be taken.
  • Provides the receiver with an opportunity to present his/her own perspective on the feedback given.  This can result in the sharing of evidence or more context that the giver might not have been aware of when initially providing the feedback.
  • A conversational approach can motivate people to seek out feedback. Research suggests that asking for it can help organizations tilt culture toward continuous improvement.

Delivering feedback in the form of a monologue is an outdated process that can be improved whether you are working with kids or adults.  Instead of preparing how you are going to “deliver” the message think about creating the conditions where the receiver will value the recommendations.  A conversation that incorporates the art of listening will go a long way to creating a culture where feedback is not only acted upon but asked for regularly. 

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