7 Steps for Giving Effective Feedback

Feedback is a gift. Those who know me have heard me utter this phrase a time or two…it might even be my official tagline. Every day, as the Director of Leadership Development at Blackbaud, I work with leaders to develop the skills needed to lead engaged, high performing teams. I also work directly with intact teams to enable them to operate more cohesively. Whether I am working with a manager or a team, the feedback muscle is a primary area of focus.

Regardless of the type of feedback you are giving—the praising or the coaching type—giving the gift of feedback costs you something. It might be your time, it might be your money, it might be your mental state, but there is a cost. The cost of feedback is not insignificant. The cost depends upon who you are, where you are in your journey, and the state of your relationship with the other person. For some of us, giving feedback is easy. Our personality types may predispose us to sharing the unvarnished truth. For the rest of us, giving feedback is uncomfortable at best…ulcer inducing at worst. There is a cost to giving feedback no matter what type is given or by what personality type. Since there is a cost, isn’t it more important our feedback is accepted?

There is a risk to giving the gift of feedback. What if the receiver doesn’t like the feedback or doesn’t think it is accurate? The gift of feedback you give might not be accepted.

Just think for a moment about how many times have you received a gift that you no longer have. Maybe you donated it, maybe you regifted it, but you didn’t keep it. Just because you give someone the gift of feedback does not mean they will accept it. They may not agree with it, they may not trust your intent, or they may not be ready to change for what ever reason. Simply giving feedback does guarantee behavior change. It takes thought and preparation to give feedback that is accepted.

Whether you are giving the gift of feedback to an employee, a manager, a teammate, a donor, a supporter, an advocate, a peer, a parent, a partner, or any other human, there is a process you can use to ensure your gift is better accepted.

Preparing Feedback

When you prepare to give feedback, you really need to prepare. Giving the gift of feedback in the moment without preparation rarely goes well. The most effective feedback employs a process that considers the person and the message. To consider the person, first consider the neuroscience of giving feedback. The SCARF model, developed by Dr. David Rock, is the perfect filter for crafting feedback. SCARF stands for:

  • Status – if a message impacts our status in relation to others our brain moves to threat state.
  • Certainty – if a message creates uncertainty our brain gets an error message and moves to threat state.
  • Autonomy – if a message is received as impacting our freedom to make decisions our brain moves to threat state
  • Relatedness – if a message impacts our connection to others our brain moves to threat state.
  • Fairness – if a message triggers our sense of fairness our brain moves to threat state.

Every feedback message you convey could move the receiver away from or toward your message. When humans perceive a threat, they tend to move away from the message. When humans perceive a reward, they move toward the message.

Imagine breaking the cardinal rule of feedback and providing coaching feedback in public. It is fine to provide praise in public but when coaching it is best done in private. Providing coaching feedback in front of others could impact every area of SCARF. When you give feedback consider if your message hits any of the SCARF areas. If so, you still can deliver the message, but be cognizant of the need to more them toward your message rather than away from your message.

Giving Feedback

After you have considered the person, think through the message. At Blackbaud we teach our leaders and teammates to deliver feedback using a model that provides the best success in having the recipient accept your gift.

1. Check in with the person and ensure now is the right time for them to receive feedback.   We all have days when one too many things happened and whatever you share will not be received.



Do you have a few moments to chat?  I wanted to discuss your presentation.



2. Provide the time and place where the behavior you are providing feedback on was observed.



Yesterday at our team meeting…



3. Provide the specifics of the observable behavior. Don’t call out feelings on judgements but rather specific behaviors you observe.



…during the Q&A portion of your presentation, you were unable to answer several of the questions asked…



4. Provide the possible impact of the behavior.



…this made you appear uncertain of the content.



5. Ask the person for their perspective of the situation.



What is your perspective of how the presentation went?



6. Reset expectations for going forward



So, going forward, you will set the expectation up front that you might not have all the answers, but you are committed to getting them.



7. Ask the person for their takeaways.  The is really the most important step because it ensures the person have a plan going forward.



My takeaway is that I need to use the Parking Lot method going forward.



Feedback really is a gift. It requires vulnerability on your part and that of the other person. It requires that you prepare and conduct the discussion in the right time and place. Helping someone become more aware of an area where they are strong, or an opportunity to grow, is truly a gift. Make good choices…give the gift of feedback.