Focus feedback on behavior rather than the person. It is
important that we refer to what a person does rather than comment on
what we imagine the person is. This focus on behavior further implies
that we use adverbs (which relate to actions) rather than adjectives
(which relate to qualities) when referring to a person. Thus we might
say a person “talked considerably din this meeting,” rather than that
this person “is a loudmouth.” When we talk in terms of “personality
traits,” this implies inherited qualities which are difficult, if not
impossible, to change. Focusing on behavior implies that it is
something related to a specific situation that might be changed. It is
less threatening to a person to hear comments about behavior that about
Focus feedback on observations rather than inferences.
Observations refer to what we can see or hear in the behavior of another
person, while inferences refer to interpretations or conclusions that we
make from what we see or hear. In a sense, inferences or conclusions
about a person contaminate our observations, thus clouding the feedback
for another person. When inferences or conclusions are shared, and it
may be valuable to have such data, it is important that they be so
Focus feedback on description rather than judgment. The
effort to describe represents a process for reporting what occurred,
while judgment entails a subjective evaluation in terms of good or bad,
right or wrong, nice or not nice. Judgments arise out of a personal
frame of reference or values, whereas description represents objective,
neutral (as far as possible) reporting.
Focus feedback on descriptions of behavior which are in terms of
“more or less” rather than in terms of “either-or.” The “more
or less” terminology implies a continuum on which any behavior may fall,
stressing quantity, which is objective and measureable, rather than
quality, which is subjective and judgmental. Thus, participation of a
person may fall on a continuum form low participation to high
participation, rather than “good” or “bad” participation. Not to think
in terms of “more or less” and the use of continua is to trap ourselves
into thinking in categories, which may then represent serious
distortions of reality.
Focus feedback on behavior related to a specific situation,
preferably to the “here and now” rather than to behavior in the abstract
which places it in the “there and then.” What you and I do is
always tied in some way to time and place, and we increase our
understanding of behavior by keeping it tied to time and place.
Feedback is generally more meaningful if given as soon as appropriate
after the observation or reactions occur, thus keeping it concrete and
relatively free of distortions that come from the lapse of time.
Focus feedback on the sharing of ideas and information rather than on
giving advice. By sharing ideas and information, we leave the
individual free to make decisions – based upon personal goals – as to
how to use the ideas and information in a particular situation at a
particular time. When we give advice, we take away the individual’s
freedom to choose the most appropriate course of action.
Focus feedback on exploration of alternatives rather than answers or
solutions. The more we can focus on a variety of procedures and
means for the attainment of a particular goal, the less likely we are to
accept prematurely a particular answer or solution – which may or may
not fit our particular problem.
Focus feedback on the value it may provide for the recipient, rather
than the value or “release” it provides the person giving the feedback.
The feedback provided should serve the needs of the recipient rather
than the needs of the giver. Help and feedback need to be given and
heard as an offer, not an imposition.
Focus feedback on the amount of information that the person receiving
it can use, rather than on the amount that you have which you might like
to give. The person who receives too much feedback may be
unable to react effectively. When we give more than can be used, we may
be satisfying our own needs rather than helping the other person.
Focus feedback on time and place so that personal data can be shared
at appropriate times. Because the reception and use of personal
feedback involves many possible emotional reactions, it is important to
be sensitive to when it is appropriate to provide feedback. Excellent
feedback presented at an inappropriate time may do more harm than good.
Focus feedback on what is said rather than why it is said.
The aspects of feedback which related to the what, how, when, where of
what is said are observable characteristics. The why of what is said
takes us from the observable to the inferred, and brings up questions of
“motive” or “intent” unless the why explicitly refers to goals. To make
assumptions about the motives of the person giving feedback may prevent
us from hearing, or cause us to distort what is said. In short, if I
question “why” a person gives me feedback, I may not hear what is being
short, the giving (and receiving) of feedback requires courage, skill,
understanding, and respect for self and others.
George Lehner passed away in February 2007. George was a good friend
and tremendous mentor. He provide simple and clear lessons that
everyone he touched valued. This paper was published by George many
years ago. We find its lessons very important and still relevant. So
many of the problems leaders, managers, team mates create is by
providing ineffective feedback which reduces trust and adversely impacts