How to Give Constructive Feedback

As we wandered around intrigued by the artists at a local art festival, my daughter suggested I take a few painting lessons.  One place offered drop in lessons so I called to see if they had room.  “I just want to shmoosh some paint on a canvas and relax,” I said.  “Just come right along.” was the reply.  “Shmooshing” however was not in the plan.

The instructor, Jack, told me I must start with drawing.  Drawing is something I had tried before.  It is difficult and exacting – not relaxing.  I decided to think positively and give it a try.  The object to be drawn was a three dimensional Styrofoam geometric shape in three planes.  I was stymied.  With a little instruction Jack got me started and then left me alone.

I worked hard but it did not look at all like what was in front of me.  Then Jack came by and said, “You’ve got this side right, now try to get this one sized properly, it is going to be great!”  He showed me how to measure by holding my brush out and lining up the side I need to get in perspective.

I felt encouraged and continued.  I was engrossed.  This was not relaxing but it was all consuming.  I could not think about anything else.  Jack came back a number of times after that.  Each time he told me what was right about my work, what I could do better, and encouraged me by telling me it would be terrific when I finished.  And it was!

The local driving range offered a free clinic every week if you just purchased a bucket of balls.  One Friday I dropped by.  As I was swinging at the balls the instructor came by.  He watched me swing and then corrected my stance, showed me what was wrong with my swing, and changed my grip.  I swung at the ball again.  It went nowhere.  He looked disgusted and reviewed everything he had just said.  My heart sank.  I knew this game was not for me.  I have never been athletic.  Every time I tried I got worse not better.

What a difference in experiences.  These two separate incidents for me demonstrate the importance of giving good constructive feedback.  In one case I was encouraged and really wanted to continue.  In the other I was discouraged and wanted to give up.

This was an important lesson.  Managers often complain to me that their criticism is ignored.  Often they are so intent on giving the employee the list of “mistakes” that managers forget the real goal which is to get better performance from their people.  Looking for the strengths a person has and building on them is so much more empowering than continuous criticism.

As a new manager I made that mistake.  I wanted to prove myself to my new direct report and show her I knew my stuff.  As I critiqued her sales presentation she looked more and more upset.  Finally she said, “Didn’t I do anything right?”

She helped me to understand that the feedback session had to be a dialogue not a monologue.  For someone to listen to the feedback I needed to help her hear by asking her what she thought first and then giving both the positive and the negative .  When I did that she was much more receptive.

 

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