In Part 1, I talked about me and how people need to want your feedback. In Part 2, I talked about the sandwich method and that feedback needs to focus on substance, not form. Let’s move on to what that substance looks like.
In the Human Resources world, feedback and goals are related. Goals are the way that feedback moves forward. If there is feedback given about a performance issue, there is likely a goal on how to improve it. If there is feedback on something you do well, there is often a goal to develop that further. A common way to write goals is the SMART method. You can read more about in the link and a google search will get you dozens of articles on it.
I am going to borrow the acronym and change the words a bit but it is still applicable. Feedback should be Sincere, Meaningful, Actionable, Relatable, and Timely.
I alluded to some of the problems with the sandwich method. Because most people aren’t skilled at giving feedback, the praise or the criticism can seem forced. I mentioned how there was a study that the employees actually just wanted the criticism straight up. Or as I sometimes say, “it turns out that people can sense BS.” The solution is for your feedback to be sincere.
If you like something or think it was well-done, say so and mean it. If you didn’t like something or think that it could have been done better, say so and mean it. A word of caution though. Being direct is not the same as being harsh, cruel, or a jerk. The letters M and R will help with that later.
When you are sincere, your body language will automatically match your words as well. A disconnect between body language and words is the biggest indication of BS.
Sometimes we are too soft in our language and that isn’t sincere either.
But it is okay to say, “I really liked the use of color in this piece,” or to say “I see where you dropped some stitches”
For those who get in trouble with directness, with let’s say extreme sincerity, the problem is that sincerity isn’t enough for good feedback. It is the root of good feedback but there are more parts.
Feedback needs to be meaningful. Meaningful to whom? That is the question.
The feedback needs to be meaningful to the receiver. To know that requires conversation. Ask what the person is looking for. What is important to them? Assume this is a display situation or the Midrealm Tournament of Art. Actively listen to the person. What are they aware of? What do they seem to want to know about? What area do they seem to have trouble with? That is what feedback they are after.
We can expand this too. Let’s imagine an A&S Faire situation where there is criteria. By nature of the event, there will be feedback on many pieces of the object. You as the judge must provide feedback on what does the documentation look like, how is the writing, how are the choices of sources, etc. It is still worth a conversion about whatever it is the presenter cares about. They probably also want the feedback on the other things but you can provide what they truly want.
Similarly in a job/performance review situation. There are some pieces of feedback you have to give. They might already know very well about the mistake they made. You have to bring it up for the formal review. But you can also have a deeper conversation. Did they lack the skills to make a good decision in that circumstance and want them? That can be the meaningful feedback. Did they want to grow in another area?
It is often part of the meaningful feedback but the feedback also has to be actionable. What does that mean? It has to be something that actually can be done by the person. That is important.
Again, you need to have a conversation. What can this person do? What options do they have access to? This is where feedback and leadership can intersect. Leaders often are able to direct towards or give access to resources. Part of your feedback might be “if you could have used this material, which you can find here and here” that is actionable. You have given the recipient something they actually can use.
Feedback which is not actionable is not meaningful. “If you only had access to 1 ton of gold, you could do this.” The person can’t have that kind of access and therefore can’t enact your feedback.
Let me give an example given to me by a friend. This friend does Commedia and they asked a Performing Arts Laurel for feedback. The feedback given was “clearly, you’re under rehearsed.” This feedback is not meaningful. What was missing? As my friend relates it, as a long distance Commedia group, they will always hurt for rehearsal time. What should they rehearse? What didn’t work? The feedback didn’t give any indication on what was the actual problem? It could have been a lack of chemistry between two actors. Or one of the actors had timing issues. Or one of the actors didn’t feel confident. Or almost anything. The feedback wasn’t really actionable either. This is a long distance group. For all any of us know, they are rehearsing as much as is possible. They can’t rehearse more.
If you are going to give feedback, talk to the person and find out what they have done, what they can do, and where their challenges are.
Good feedback, especially if it is negative, is relatable to the recipient. Relatability is a useful tool to help make negative feedback palatable. I am using this a synonym for empathetic.
In an art situation, if you are providing feedback, you are likely in a position of authority of some kind. You are the judge handing out points. You are the expert offering clues to the next step. You are the confidant offering incentive to keep going. The other person is vulnerable in showing you their art and asking you for your feedback.
But the performance had technical flaws. Or the object shows evidence of bad technique. It could be anything. By making your feedback relatable, you show that with work, the recipient can overcome the problem and achieve your level. That offers hope, even in the face of large amounts of criticism.
Let’s try this example. ” Your pronunciation of the German in Bach’s Gott mein Herz dir Dank is offputting. It really took me out of the moment. I suggest you look at finding a German tutor to help you. Here are a few sources” It has all of the letters so far. It is sincere. It is meaningful. It is actionable.
Verses this. “Your pronunciation of the German in Bach’s Gott mein Herz dir Dank is offputting. It really took me out of the moment. I remember the first time I sung that piece and I too really struggled with the German. I suggest you look at finding a German tutor to help you. Here are a few sources.”
Instead of “here is your problem and here is your solution”, the second option offers compassion, even with the criticism. All with one sentence. The recipient sees more than “I screwed that up,” and goes “okay, it is not just me. Others had trouble with this and overcame it.”
The relatability doesn’t have to necessarily be in the same area. By the time you are in a position to give feedback, you will have shared life experiences.
Even with performance issues this can be used. Bosses aren’t perfect and mistakes don’t necessarily mean immediate termination (there are few things that will). There is no need to project perfection. Relatable feedback shows that even with negative feedback, there is a way forward.
Feedback should also be timely. It should occur close to the when the event happened.
In a judging situation, this is pretty much automatic. The performance, object, or person is right in front of you. In job/performance review situations, this is more relevant.
Oftentimes, bosses don’t want to be seen as “bad guys.” There is a temptation to let a bad behavior slide. “Maybe it won’t be a habit.” Or “surely they know this is a problem.” It is better to address the problem sooner rather than later. It helps head off confusion later. “You never told me I shouldn’t do that.” It keeps the incident fresh in your mind.
It also applies to positive feedback. Positive feedback should also occur very close in time to the event that is being praised. It reinforces that what you are seeing or just saw is what you want to continue to see.
When doing periodic reviews, the maxim is there should be no surprises. You have already given feedback, positive and negative, at the time of the incidents; you are just recapping what has happened over that period of time.
If you are periodically reviewing some in the SCA, perhaps a dependent or someone’s growth as an artist, the timeliness becomes more important. Give your feedback at each incident, document it, then refer to those documents at that periodic review to show change over time.
With SMART feedback, the form doesn’t matter. It can be a sandwich. It can be part of a natural conversation. It can be isolated comments. It is the substance that matters. If you only have one item of feedback, because that is all you have or perhaps that is all the recipient wants, SMART covers your bases. The feedback will be sincere, meaningful, actionable, relatable, and timely. All of that can be accomplished in a few sentences or several paragraphs depending on your style.
More in this series
Feedback and Leadership- Part 1
Feedback – The Sandwich Method – Part 2
Feedback – The Halo Effect – Part 4
Feedback- Getting the Most out of A&S – Part 5
Feedback – Miscellany & Conclusions – Part 6