Don’t Give Feedback, Generate Feedback

Many people hate giving feedback nearly as much as they dislike receiving critical feedback. I want to show you how to give feedback successfully, by not giving it.

Feedback is absolutely necessary for personal and professional growth. Giving feedback is expected of any supervisor, leader, or even parent. This is not to say that people like receiving feedback – they don’t. I wrote another article on the wrong ways many people receive feedback.

The goal of feedback is to provide useful information to help a person improve and develop. This information can reinforce positive behaviors or point out blind spots the person wasn’t aware of.

The trick with feedback is twofold: 1) communicate clearly about a specific behavior, and 2) communicate in such a way that the other person can hear you so he or she will more likely be able to receive the feedback. You see, with any critical feedback people can very quickly become defensive. Once they are defensive, it is difficult for them to be able to process the feedback in a helpful way.

My solution: don’t give feedback, generate feedback.

Look at this statement from sports and executive coach Sir John Whitmore:

Generating high-quality relevant feedback, as far as possible from within rather than from experts, is essential for continuous improvement, at work, in sport and in all aspects of life.”

The goal in giving feedback is helping the person gain greater self-awareness. Whitmore contends, and my experience agrees, that pulling feedback out of a person rather than being given it by an “expert” (you), is better. The goal of feedback can be achieved by using powerful questions to generate new self-awareness.

How to Give Feedback by Generating it

Have a brief conversation shortly after the behavior or experience that requires feedback. In private, ask the person about what she did well, what she could improve, and how she would do it differently next time.

1. Ask about strengths. And then affirm them!

  • What did you do well?
  • What else?
  • I saw that as well. I also noticed how you X and Y and Z. Fantastic job!

2. Ask what ways she thinks she could improve.

  • What could be improved?
  • Where do you think you up your game?

3. Ask for some possible future alternatives.

  • How might you do that differently next time?
  • What would you like to do next time?

It might surprise you that when asked about improvements she mentions the very thing you were thinking of. If so, great! Much better to come from her than you.

Even better, sometime the improvement she mentions is something you weren’t thinking of, yet you realize is the most important on her development list. Now you stand ready to help her develop in ways that are important to her.

I find that if I regularly do this kind of feedback process that all the important improvements come out after a few conversations. If it can’t wait, no problem, just say, “There’s one other area I’d like you to work on…” After asking questions and listening to her, she will be in a better place to be able to receive your feedback.

Generating feedback in this way can be done is 2 minutes. It’s a positive, non-confrontative way to help a person reflect on their actions.

Question: What is your experience with generating feedback, rather than giving it? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

PS. You can read more about this in my book, The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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    3 thoughts on “Don’t Give Feedback, Generate Feedback

    1. Hi Keith! I just had a conversation with a pastor who was struggling to give feedback in a helpful way to their associate staff. I processed this technique with them, as I’ve experienced good success with it in the past. I’m passing this along as encouragement and a thank you! Thank you for teaching so many of these excellent and honoring processes. I’m forever grateful for what I’ve learned from you.