7 Criteria for Good Feedback

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Our weekly feature, The Tipster, brings you easy-to-digest tips on topics that matter to your innovative work.

This Week: What are qualities of good feedback?

Giving feedback and receiving feedback is an essential part of any innovation process. It’s a way of communicating to a person how their behavior affects others. Feedback is a way of helping that person keep their behavior on target and achieve their goals.

But what makes good feedback different from bad or harmful feedback?

Below are 7 qualities to keep in mind for providing good, useful feedback:

1. It is descriptive rather than evaluative.

By describing one’s own reaction, it leaves the individual free to use it or to use it as he or she sees fit. By avoiding evaluative language, it reduces the need for the individual receiving feedback to react defensively.

2. It is specific rather than general.

To be told that one is “dominating” will probably not be as useful as to be told something like: “Just now, when we were deciding the issue, you did not listen to what others said and I felt forced to accept your arguments or face attack from you.”

3. It is solicited rather than imposed.

Feedback is most useful when the person receiving it has already been able to formulate a question that those observing him or her can answer.

4. It is checked to ensure clear communication.

One way of doing this is to have the receiver try to rephrase the feedback he or she has received to see if it corresponds to what the sender had in mind.

5. It is well timed.

In general, feedback is most useful at the earliest opportunity after the related behavior (depending, of course, on the person’s readiness to hear it, support available from others, etc.).

6. It is directed toward behavior that the person receiving feedback can do something about.

Frustration is only increased when a person is reminded of some shortcoming over which he or she has no control (such as being told one is too short).

7. It takes into account the needs of both the receiver and giver of feedback.

Feedback can be destructive when it serves only our own needs and fails to consider the needs of the person on the receiving end.

Feedback, then, can be seen as a way of giving help. It is a corrective mechanism for an individual who wants to learn how well his or her behavior matches his or her intentions; it is a means for helping to establish one’s identity—for answering, “Who am I?”

What has your experience been with giving or receiving feedback? What kind of feedback has been most useful to you, from either side of the conversation? Share in the comments below.

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