Sunday / May 19

How to say what you mean… without being mean

It’s human to want to feel competent. No one likes to be criticized, and we sometimes push back when we get feedback from a co-worker that suggests our performance leaves room for improvement.

But the truth is, feedback is essential for individual growth and development. Without feedback, we really don’t know whether our own perception of our performance is accurate or if we’re truly having the impact we desire.

If you focus only on content in delivering feedback, you may deliver a message that’s too unfiltered, laying it on the line in a critical or judgmental way. Yet if you focus only on the relationship your message may get blurred and not heard at all. So how do you give feedback that will both promote change and preserve the professional relationship?

4 Steps for Reflective Feedback

In our Second Edition of Coaching Conversations, we suggest giving reflective feedback. This approach works well for opening up difficult conversations and is an especially useful tool to give feedback after formal or informal observations.

The reflective feedback frame uses four steps:

  1. Be very clear about the ONE challenge, issue, or goal you want to discuss.
  2. Offer a clarifying question or statement connected to your colleague’s practice. Clarifying questions and statements emerge from curiosity—something you are concerned about or want to know more about. They seek to make underlying assumptions explicit.
  3. State the value or potential value of the person you are talking with or the idea under consideration. With a value statement, affirm a specific strength you have observed and make your own opinions about the topic explicit.
  4. Pose a reflective question or possible action to stimulate thinking. Reflective questions engage the other person’s thinking and request a response. They help the other person think more deeply, creatively make new connections, and see other points of view.

Feedback that builds on strengths

These four steps open up a conversation for giving constructive feedback. And the beauty is that all four steps should take no longer than one minute to say! There is no long list of examples justifying your observations or presenting your ideas for change. The conversation is about engaging the other person in thinking about his or her practice and owning its effects on students. In fact, these same four feedback steps may be used with and effective for your students, too!

This kind of feedback is specific and builds on people’s strengths. It changes the conversation from one in which the observer does all the talking (and thinking) to a dialogue. The person giving feedback speaks less than the person to whom the feedback is addressed.

You can read more examples of how this feedback approach looks and sounds in real practice in our book Coaching Conversations.

Written by

Linda Gross Cheliotes is a noted author and former school teacher and administrator with over 40 years of experience in a multitude of educational arenas. She trains school personnel to use coach-like behaviors in order to experience success in implementing Common Core Curriculum and other educational innovations.

Marceta F. Reilly is a leadership coach who believes the “coach approach” to leadership is a vital skill for 21st century leaders. Her passion is developing leaders and organizational cultures that inspire the human spirit. She is a co-author of three books about school leadership in which she helps individuals and teams get clearer about their strengths, more confident about how they “show up” in their work, and more effective in their collaborative working relationships.

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