Feedback vs Advice — Tips on giving effective feedback

Most people don’t give feedback, they give unsolicited advice

I would say that we are in a feedback crisis. It’s been a hot topic over the past 2 years for me whist trying to build a feedback culture.

We all know that feedback is important, we all want our culture to be welcoming of feedback but why haven’t more companies managed to nail it?

Over the past 2 years I’ve come to conclude that one of the root problems is the negative connotations — or baggage — that is associated with the word ‘feedback’.

More often that not feedback in organisations are only given at performance appraisals and or in ‘performance management’ situations and are poorly delivered quite often in the “bad news sandwich” style — where you start with a positive, get to the negative part you actually wanted to talk about and then finish on another positive. Please stop doing this!

Either way it’s not something we associate with positivity. It’s no wonder then that we see feedback as more criticism and a negative thing only.

It’s a common trap I see regularly where feedback is only seen as ‘constructive’ or performance focused. It’s almost like they have completely forgotten that feedback can be positive as well!

In fact, studies on high performing teams found that they share nearly six times more positive feedback than average teams — so if anything it should be the other way around, we should focus on giving positive feedback more than constructive.

High-performing teams share nearly six times more positive feedback than average teams.

My hypothesis here is that it is no one’s fault that feedback has a bad wrap — how many of you can say that you’ve been taught properly how to give feedback? I know I wasn’t! My hypothesis then is that we simply have not been taught how to give or receive feedback properly.

And this is part of the problem. The more you expect managers and people to give feedback when they have not been taught properly, is just fuelling the fire. Which is why I’ve been spending a lot of my time recently coaching simply on how to give and receive feedback effectively.

Let’s start with some dictionary definitions.

feedback

/ˈfiːdbak/ noun

“information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.”

As the definition suggests, to give feedback is to simply give information about how we reacted to something.

advice

/ədˈvʌɪs/ noun

“guidance or recommendations offered with regard to prudent future action.”

Key word there is recommendations for future action. Where as feedback had no suggestion to recommendations — rather it’s about how we felt, our reaction to an event.

This is where many fall over. We often jump to how we might solve it or do things differently than the other person. When we do we are no longer giving feedback but rather we are giving advice.

Most of the time people don’t give actual feedback, rather what they are doing is giving unsolicited advice.

This is by far one of my biggest bug-bear’s — giving advice rather than feedback! It’s easily the most common form of poor feedback I see.

Example:

“you need to make your main argument clearer to the reader” — a recommendation for a future action — therefore advice.

“I found it difficult to understand your main argument. In paragraph two I felt that the points where contradicting” — a reaction that you had difficulty understanding and felt contradictory — therefore feedback.

Advice alone can be abrupt at times. Making the whole experience quite a negative one.

I’ve received ‘feedback’ in the past along the lines of “I would have never done that!” or worse “never ever do…..blah!”. It’s good that I’m getting some solid advice for improvement — sure ok next time I won’t do that ‘blah’ but the advice was not only abrupt but it also used strong words like “never” which can be shocking if not prepared for it and it sure doesn’t feel great to hear either.

Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with advice, advice is great, but it needs to be asked for and should always include the context of feedback.

Feedback sets the ‘why’ behind the advice. In the earlier example, simply saying that they need to be clearer is missing key information — why does it need to be clearer? Which part? Unfortunately this is the kind of feedback I hear too often.

Ideal scenario is that you give the person feedback — effective feedback — and they follow it up with asking for advice — “what would you do?” — or possibly “I would love to hear your thoughts on how I might improve in that area for next time?”. Now you are being asked for advice, see the difference!

If you’re being asked for feedback then that’s what you should give. Start with feedback and get permission first before giving advice. And if you do receive poor feedback, or what I like to call unsolicited advice, it may just be a perfect opportunity to give that person some feedback and seek clarification on context.

Two ways to frame feedback

There are many ways which you can frame feedback but I’m going to focus on two — Impact and Expectation feedback.

1. Impact feedback

When you did/said ______ the impact it had on me was ______.

Impact feedback is about something that happened and the direct impact it had on you. It would be the way you felt, how it affected your work, etc. but it’s impact focused.

It is particularly great for when providing feedback to behaviours and specific events.

Example:

When you continued talking when i tried to speak the impact it had on me was that I didn’t feel respected or like I had a voice.

When you admitted you were wrong the impact it had on me was that it made me feel safe to experiment and fail.

2. Expectation feedback

In order for me to do/achieve ______ what I need/expect from you is ______.

Expectation feedback is great when trying to provide feedback around things that you are need but haven’t been getting.

Example:

In order for me to feel valued at work, what I need from you is empowerment for me to make decisions and manage my own work.

In order for me to feel valued at work, what I need from you is empowerment for me to make decisions and manage my own work.

Final Tips for giving feedback

  • Offered. Feedback should be offered, it is a privilege and a choice. Don’t force feedback on anyone, it can be as simple as asking “would you like to hear some feedback?”.
  • Timely. Make sure you give your feedback in a timely manner, don’t wait too long to give feedback its best received in the moment.
  • Prepare your feedback. Make sure you know what you are going to say and how you are going to say it, keep it clear and direct.
  • Be mindful of bias’. We are all bias and feedback is a two way street, how did something affected you often warrants personal reflection on yourself — is there anything you could do yourself about it?
  • Make you feedback neutral and observation based.
  • Express feelings and how it made you feel and only yourself.
  • Don’t speak for others.
  • Both positive and constructive. Don’t forget to give positive feedback as well. Try to give positive more than constructive feedback. This will help reinforce your feedback culture and build safety.
  • Regular. Offer feedback often, make it a habit to ask for feedback and to offer feedback.
  • Keep it casual, doesn’t need to be a big deal or too formal.

And remember feedback is perception, not fact!

Product person, agile nerd and cat herder 🐈 Find me at www.antmurphy.me

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