Solution Saturday: Bored with Feedback Methods

Hi Dan,

Greetings from Ireland. I hope this message finds you well.

Can I begin with flattery…(genuine) by saying that your leadership narratives and comments are amazing and always ‘get me thinking’! Thank you so much for sharing.

I hope you don’t mind me posing a question about giving feedback…giving/receiving feedback is a culture in parts of our organisation (Criminal Justice) and I’m a fan of it.

Usually it takes the form of 3 positives/good things and 1 area for development. This method has worked in the early to mid stages of staff development.

The issue is it’s so samey i.e. repetitive and i think as people grow in development they outgrow the method. Have you any suggestions on methods on mixing up feedback so it stays fresh and advancing.? Perhaps taking the form of augmented learning or 3rd person perspective?

Would appreciate any thoughts or direction.

Very best,


effective feedback enables people to see themselves in surprising ways

Dear Ian,

Thank you for your question and kind words. It’s a honor to be of service. We’re both fans of feedback. Here are some thoughts to consider.

Three neglected feedback questions:

#1. “What were you trying to accomplish when you…?” (This is the most neglected question in feedback conversations.) Make the question an exploration, not an accusation. Ask it openly.

Focus on goals before discussing behaviors.

You might take a proactive approach to identifying goals. Describe goals based on behaviors, not declarations. “When I saw you (insert behavior), I think you were trying to (Insert goal). Discuss alignment between your perceptions and their intentions.

Effective feedback enables people to see themselves and the impact of their behaviors in unexpected ways.

#2. Toward the end of feedback conversations ask, “What’s shifting in your thinking?” Provide space for reflection.

We see ourselves as we describe ourselves.

Restate reflections. “Here’s what I hear you saying. Are we on track?”

#3. “What are you learning about yourself?”

Go with your gut:

Developmental feedback includes subjective observations. I often hear myself saying, “It feels like…,” when I give developmental feedback.

Listen with your heart. When something seems inconsistent or confusing, explore it.

Preface subjective feedback with, “I might be wrong. This is what I’m observing/feeling.” Your feedback might be off base, but the exercise is still useful.

Future vs. past:

Feedback typically looks to the past. Adopt a forward-facing posture.

  1. Identify a future outcome. Challenge ambiguities like, “I’d like to get better.” Describe “better” as clearly as possible.
  2. Design four behaviors that might work. Multiple options are essential to good decisions. While exploring possible behaviors, keep asking, “And what else?”
  3. Choose one behavior to try.
  4. Follow-up in two weeks to see how it worked.
  5. Adapt and so on…

Create environments where it’s safe to try new things and adapt as you go.

Positive vs. negative:

The ratio of positive to negative feedback establishes the tone of an organization’s culture. Positive cultures tip heavily toward recurring positive feedback and occasional negative feedback.

Words are rudders. Language establishes direction.

Separate positive feedback from negative. The feedback sandwich is filled with baloney. Everyone ignores the positives and waits for the baloney in the middle.

Give positive feedback spontaneously. Catch people engaging in desired behaviors. You may need to plan your spontaneity. Put gratitude walks on your calendar, for example. As time passes, spontaneous positive feedback may become more natural.

When you see desired behaviors:

  1. Give feedback immediately.
  2. Describe the behavior. “I saw you asking second and third questions.”
  3. Give affirmation. “It’s awesome to see you embrace our leadership team’s goal to develop listening skills.”
  4. Explain impact. “When you ask second questions, people feel valued and you encourage other leaders who are working to practice the same skill.”
  5. Provide brief physical contact. Give a pat on the back or arm. (Consider culture before including physical touch.)

When giving negative feedback, spend less time on positives. Get to the meat quickly. Good manners matter, but everyone is waiting for the shoe to drop.

Conclude with a forward facing plan.

Energy increases as future goals and behaviors become clear.

Performance feedback:

  1. Establish expectations and goals upfront. It’s a kick in the gut to be held to a standard after the fact.
  2. Track the numbers. Performance feedback is about the data.
  3. Affirm useful behaviors – identify and eliminate ineffective.
  4. Identify and try new behaviors.

Thanks again for your question. Few things are more important to the successful pursuit of excellence than feedback. To be candid, most leaders receive very little honest feedback. This may be one reason leaders stagnate and eventually become less effective.

Best wishes,


What suggestions do you have for designing and delivering effective feedback?

stoner endorsement

*I suspend my 300 word limit on Solution Saturday.