Cut to the Chase: Feedback, conflict and the cost of conversations we avoid: Part 2

In this article, we’ll explore HOW to give effective feedback.

For most of us, giving feedback is uncomfortable. At the same time, if you don’t you will get the behaviours you tolerate – and we know that high performance takes place in an environment of high expectations and low toleranceSo if giving feedback is a necessary evil – how do we set up ourselves and our people for success?

Set up your game plan

The moment we give feedback, we’re holding our people – and ourselves – accountable. But before you can hold anyone to account, you need to set the play, the goalposts, the strategy, the measures. You need to explain the consequences of success and failure. Your people need to understand expectations, parameters, goals and boundaries.

Understand your people

The art of effective feedback is in understanding where your people are at, meeting them there and using effective feedback to bring them along on the journey towards your organisational imperatives.

The work of Hattie and Timperley from the University of Auckland [reference] provides a useful framework to provide effective feedback. They explain that feedback takes place at four levels:

  1. Task level: How well do people understand and perform the task. Do they understand what it looks like to perform here?
  2. Process level: How well do they understand and perform the organisation’s main process? Do they understand their role and how it contributes to this process?
  3. Self-Regulation level: To what extent are they able to self-monitor, self-regulate and self-direct? Can they evaluate themselves and come to the same conclusions that you did?
  4. Personal level: Feedback should be provided often – and not just during Performance Reviews.

To provide effective feedback at each of these levels, you need to keep asking yourself and the recipient these three questions:

  1. What’s my goal with this conversation? (Feed up)
  2. How am I doing? (Feedback)
  3. Where to next? (Feed forward)

First know yourself, then you are more likely to know who you are talking to.  When you understand your good, bad and ugly, then you will know theirs.  This will give you the cut through point for feedback.

Focus on your own psychology

To craft feedback that acts as a launchpad to lift people to the next level, you need to manage your own mindset.

  • Make a contextual shift: Relay feedback as though you’re giving it to champions who are hungry for feedback. Approach the conversation from a place that moves things forward – from a context of success for them personally and for the business.
  • Avoid the ‘puppy dog’ approach: Research has shown that praise is one of the weakest forms of feedback, where small, regular pieces of instrumental feedback is the most powerful feedback. Make sure you acknowledge the journey not the result, the effort, not the outcome. What did it take to get us there?  In short, take our “good job” and “well done” this puppy dogs people – replace with “great work, I can see this took effort”, or “was hard work” or “what did it take to do it”.  Research from Carol Dewek “don’t praise intelligence and abilities, praise effort and process.  This sets up a growth mindset.
  • The conflict-averse conversation: Giving effective feedback when you are conflict averse requires the courage to make unpopular decisions that might mean you’re disliked as a leader. Ask yourself what it takes to be okay with being disliked? Recognise that your mindset can be an enabler, or a preventative hurdle. Don’t let pride, insecurity or fear prevent you from giving powerful feedback. Remember the imperative of effective feedback – for both the recipient and the business.


A few feedback pointers…

  1. “Pull in the Pinkie” – this piece of coaching advice to pull in the pinkie finger on each hand, made the difference between a win and a place for an Olympic swimmer. Pulling in the Pinkie” is all about fine-tuning – giving lots of small pieces of feedback, often and in real time, to enable small adjustments immediately, towards success.
    John Collins – head Coach of Badger Swim Club produced more Olympian world class swimmers than anyone else
  2. Give feedback early and often – if possible, in the moment.
  3. If you wait to be perfect to give feedback, you never will. Don’t hold back – provide feedback in the moment and often, recognising that the moment we give feedback, we’re holding the recipient – and ourselves – to account.
  4. Great leadership means giving and receiving feedback. You can’t give effective feedback if you can’t receive feedback.  Leaders who learn to take what they give, earn the respect and extra effort from their team.
  5. Build feedback into your day-to-day: Formalise and embed a culture of feedback by including it as a regular agenda item in meetings and huddles.  Dedicate 5 minutes in each meeting to discuss:  3 KILLER QUESTIONS: What worked?  What didn’t?  What was missing that if we did that it would have made a difference?


Setting up your game plan, understanding your people focusing on your mindset and providing direct feedback regularly, are all key to the delivery of effective feedback.  Next up: the language of potent feedback.



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