How to Give and Receive Effective Feedback

Brodie Church

Have you ever observed the impact that one person’s words can have on another person’s performance? Earlier this year I enjoyed observing my daughter Georgia during her swimming lesson. Her little brother Colton and I watched as coach Abbey took the time to observe Georgia’s swimming habits, offering words of encouragement before sharing specific comments on what she was doing well. “Georgia, your kicking is amazing – keep doing that with your feet!” She then offered a suggestion to make her swimming even better: “I bet you can move even faster. Next time I’d like to see you move your hands like this . . .”

My heart was beaming with pride both for Georgia’s desire to improve and for Abbey’s natural coaching abilities which were igniting that desire to learn. This magical moment reminded me of times in my career when effective feedback transformed my results. I’ve learned that optimal performance is subjective and that it is critical that everyone involved understands the goal and what is expected of them. For example, Georgia may be putting all of her effort into her kicking, but if her coach is more focused on her hand movements, the kicking efforts may not be appreciated, or even relevant. So, it got me thinking – we all have an exciting opportunity to exceed job expectations if we can get comfortable giving and receiving feedback . . . with anyone.

Hearing from others is an opportunity to learn what is important to those around us and reminds us of our own priorities.

Historically, we have come to expect (and hopefully accept) feedback from our leaders. But recently, feedback has become more of a team responsibility. Consider who you spend time with and the people that see the successes and challenges you face each day; hearing or receiving help and advice from those people will likely allow for more frequent – and relevant – feedback.

What is preventing some of us from embracing this helpful practice of information sharing? Firstly, it is not always easy to provide feedback, with lack of time, fear of judgement, and a limited understanding of how to deliver it being some of the most common barriers. Secondly, many of us miss out on the opportunity to improve because we are not open to receiving feedback; a difference in priorities (and a healthy ego) often gets in the way of us listening.

We must remind ourselves of the benefits of well-crafted feedback, which are improved performance, enhanced results, and healthier team relationships (to name a few). Remember the old saying, “Perception is reality”? Another person’s perception acts as the lens by which they see the world around them. Knowing and understanding that perception can be helpful when trying to meet or exceed expectations.

We all have an exciting opportunity to exceed job expectations if we can get comfortable giving and receiving feedback . . . with anyone.

Hearing from others is an opportunity to learn what is important to those around us and reminds us of our own priorities. For example, Georgia had the opportunity to focus less on her kicking and more on her hand movements because Abbey made it clear that was her priority teaching skill that day.

One might ask how we can improve our current feedback process to allow for a balanced perspective on individual performance. To create an environment where feedback is effectively shared and openly received, three simple steps are required:

  • A willingness to learn
  • Clear expectations of the process and why it can help
  • Team participation and encouragement

If you can encourage any of these steps on your team, you will be taking a huge leap forward in helping to improve team communication, relationships, and ultimately performance.

But wait, didn’t we say that one of the challenges to giving feedback is not knowing how to effectively deliver it? Let’s look at an easy-to-remember framework that will make it easier for you to give or receive feedback and advice. This framework is called S.O.S., which stands for Situation, Observation, and Suggestion.

S:  Share the situation: “I noticed . . .”
Sharing what you saw or heard shows the other person that you care and that you have credibility; you witnessed and understand the situation you are sharing. This will help the person receiving the feedback buy into what you are about to say. Helpful tip: Stick to the facts rather than interpretations of the facts (e.g., “I saw . . .,” “I heard . . .,” etc.).

O: Offer your observations: “I liked . . . and I’d also consider . . .”
Ensure your observations are balanced, sharing something you specifically like and something you specifically think can be improved.

S: Provide a suggestion: “Therefore, I recommend . . .”
Suggest a specific next step for how you think the other person can sustain their successes and improve their results. Or, whenever possible, encourage them to think about it themselves to come up with an answer – this is often the most effective approach because you are motivating them rather than telling them.

To get the conversation started, talk to your team about giving feedback and ask them for their ideas. Monitor their willingness to learn, their understanding of the expectations, and their role in encouraging one another to achieve results to ensure they remain engaged in the feedback process. Lastly, consider the S.O.S. framework to make sure you have a balanced, factual approach. This will undoubtedly make feedback easier to hear and move you toward swimming in the fast lane with Abbey and Georgia.


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Author: Brodie Church
Trainer, ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership

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