Feedback, sans Kitchen Sink.

man sitting on chair with book

Feedback, feedback, feedback; our lives seem to be permeated with it. If it is not feeling the temperature change and adjusting our clothing, it is our boss telling us what we do wrong. But which types of feedback do we want from people that are important to us; colleagues, parents, bosses and spouses. What do we need from those that matter to us most?

The kitchen sink
Often when we get to a feedback conversation we tend to throw everything in there. Because we tend to follow classical feedback models that says we do a performance appraisal once or twice a year, it becomes the de facto “throwing everything including the kitchen sink” at an employee scenario. This does not work! What are we supposed to remember from the conversation? That we felt angry, upset or betrayed? Did you not see all the good I did? Why do I only hear the negatives? Where were you the other 364 days of the year? Did you just not pay attention?Feel familiar?

Three types
For starters, lets separate the types of feedback. I love Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone! They tend to find the simplest and most concise way of bringing a complex concept to life. They contend that there are three types of feedback; Appreciation, Coaching and Evaluation. Using this simple classification allows us not only to apply a simple structure but also to not get things confused.

Expressing appreciation in its simplest form, starts with being polite. Say please and especially thank you. It costs you nothing but does so much. When you tell someone “thank you”; you are saying that you acknowledge what they have done. If you take it one step further and show them the elements you think that have been well executed, you know that next time they do something for you it will at least be the same if not better. Saying thank you shows them what is good enough and appreciated. From there on in you can get more expressive all the way to “OMG that is amazing”. But it all starts with the Impact of Thank You.

In feedback as coaching, the primary driver is: I am trying to help you. This is NOT an excuse for a passive-aggressive “what you did wrong today”. Firstly, your desire to help needs to be genuine. Secondly you need to provide constructive options for the person to select from or brains-storm options with them. Then, let them select their own way forward. They need to find their own way to achieve the result, not yours.

This is the 360 feedback, annual performance review, what you have done wrong, right or OK kind of feedback. It does have one small caveat though. You cannot evaluate against non-existing criteria. Sounds like a no-brainer right? But how often have you been evaluated against criteria that were not agreed or that you did not know about? How often have you been the one to do evaluation without having set the criteria beforehand? If you really want to frustrate people; don’t tell them what criteria you will be holding them to, but then surprise them with the feedback; “you did not meet the (invisible) criteria”.

Fix it
So lets focus on disentangling the different types of feedback. Stick to one of them till it has concluded, before taking on the next one. This means NO sentences that start with “I liked what you did” and then continue with “… but, alas, however, etc. ….”Express appreciation without caveat and do coaching often. Leave the evaluation for the times it is really needed and use it sparingly. Remember, bees work hard for honey…

The Challenge
Research has shown that the minimal ratio of appreciation to coaching and/or evaluation is 3:1 and at most 11:1. This week I challenge you to use a recommended ratio of 5:1. Just to make sure I am not missing a beat: that is five Appreciation for every one Coaching or Evaluation.Thanks for the Feedback is a book by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen exploring how to receive feedback well. it is also available in Dutch: “Feedback is een cadeautje”