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Principles of Effective Feedback

The purpose of this exercise is for a group to discuss, define, and come to agreement around key principles of effective feedback. Participants discuss examples of effective and ineffective feedback in pairs, then work together to define “effective feedback.” Then, as a group, they create a list of principles that they will aim to work by.

  1. Step 1:

    Explain the purpose of the session: for the group to come to agreement around key principles of effective feedback. If relevant, briefly discuss as a group what feedback is and why it is a useful practice.

    Put participants into pairs and ask them to discuss examples of when they have received effective/helpful feedback, and ineffective/harmful feedback. Give them 5-10 minutes before bringing the group together to hear some examples.

  2. Step 2:

    Explain that now that the group has heard some examples from experience, they will work together to extrapolate some criteria or principles for “effective" and “ineffective” feedback.

    Write “effective” and “ineffective” as headers on each flipchart. Invite suggestions from the group while you write them up, covering “effective” first, then moving to “ineffective”.

    Facilitator notes

    Your role is to accurately capture the suggestions from the group. You can paraphrase suggestions for clarity and ask participants to clarify if a suggestion is unclear. If a suggestion comes forward that might not meet agreement from the group (for instance, “critical feedback is best delivered via text message”), open up for brief discussion with the group before writing it on the flipchart. Remember to be clear and bold with your writing. If necessary use multiple flipchart sheets.

  3. Step 3:

    Support the completion of the group’s brainstorm by adding principles from the list below. Generally, most of these principles will be expressed in one way or another. Only add principles that have not been voiced by the group already.

    Timing: Be aware of the other person’s needs and priorities. Ask them if it's a good time. They could be rushing off to do a task, etc.

    Self-awareness: Be aware of your own feelings; do not give feedback if you are triggered or angry.

    1. Be descriptive about the behavior, not about the person
    2. Do not judge or label
    3. Focus on performance outcomes
    4. Don’t try to change others
    5. Speak plainly and clearly
    6. Receiver: Ask for feedback, don't wait for it.
    7. Giver: Ask the person if you can give them feedback
    8. Own your own feedback and speak from the "I", not from the "we".
    9. Don’t mix up your own thoughts and feelings with other people's
    10. Always be specific. Do not generalize.
    11. Be timely and regular
    12. Don’t attempt to save your remarks to deliver all at once
    13. Focus on the relationship with the other
    14. Be solution focused vs. problem focused
  4. Step 4:

    Ask the group how they are going to ensure that they work by these principles. Invite suggestions from members of the group. Close the session when you feel that it has reached a natural resolution.

    Facilitator notes

    This exercise should be combined with a tangible experience of giving and receiving feedback. Use an exercise like Strongest Current Impression or I Appreciate… during the same day so that participants get both the conceptual principles and the tangible experience.