feedback advice
December 1, 2020

More feedback advice, from Aristotle to the Sandwich model

By Paul Laughlin

Just when you thought I’d finished sharing on feedback, a late entrant of feedback advice I could not resist.

In this post, guest blogger Hanne Sorteberg from Norway shares her personal view of what’s important when giving feedback. A helpful addition to the perspectives I’ve shared from Kim Scott, Kevin Watson, Tony Boobier, William Buist & Harry Wilkes.

Readers may recall that Hanne develops innovation at Storebrand. She has shared with us before her experience with interns (despite the pandemic) and how to co-create using digital workshops.

In this post, Hanne shares what she has learnt from working in a business with a strong feedback culture. This includes what she has learnt, some popular feedback methods and recommended actions you can take today. Over to Hanne to take us through all that…

There are many sources on how to be better at giving feedback. Here are my views on what is important, and some practical tips on where to start to contribute to a good feedback culture at work.

Why is feedback important?

I have been lucky to work in a team with a strong feedback culture. That is not common in my country, Norway, where we tend to be a bit timid and self-conscious.

What are the characteristics of a strong feedback culture?

Trust and security

I never worry about what my colleagues think of me and my efforts. I always get feedback on what I do well, and what I can improve, as a natural part of the work-day.

Curiosity

I am conscious and observant of my own behaviour and of others so that I can give constructive feedback.

Continuous learning and improvement

Every day is a source of new insights about myself and others, making it possible to re-adjust and improve as a team.

Why is feedback so difficult?

It is human to avoid negative situations and feelings. Realizing that something can be done differently, implicitly indicates failure – that we are not perfect. In a fixed mindset, this can be painful. A growth mindset will see it as an opportunity to improve, but that often takes practice.

The main problem is that we are not very used to get feedback. The times we tried did perhaps go badly, and we will not try again.

Feedback as a way of persuasion

Aristotle defines his theory of persuasion with three main elements of rhetoric – Ethos, Pathos and Logos.

Ethos

Trust and credibility. Do I have confidence in the sender’s skills and intentions? Is this person entitled to give me this message?

Pathos

Feelings. How can the sender appeal to the recipient’s feelings to get the message across?

Logos

Logic. How can I build my arguments in a logical manner that will persuade the recipient?

Some popular feedback methods

The Sandwich

Never bluntly give negative feedback, soften the message with positive feedback before you give negative feedback, and end with some positive feedback to finish on a high note. Another rule of thumb is that it takes five times positive feedback to balance out one negative.

360-degrees feedback

Assemble a handful of people from the organisation that can give feedback on last year’s work achievements.

Improving them with the help of Aristotle

These methods or “recipes” for feedback can expand by learning a bit from Aristotle…

Trust and credibility

It is difficult to be open for feedback if we don’t have trust in the relation. A good starting point is when the parties have worked together for a while and are used to have a frequent dialogue. We often need to “warm-up” before we are ready to give and receive feedback.

I need to trust that the sender is competent to give feedback on how I do my job. I need to respect them as skilled workers and compassionate colleagues. Most important – I need to be convinced that the sender wishes me well, that the feedback is given with the motivation to help me, and to invest in me and our relationship.

Feelings

Feedback can sometimes induce strong emotions – especially if you are prone to taking things personally and are unaccustomed to receiving evaluations and criticisms from others. If feedback is part of your daily routine, it will take away the uncertainty and the discomfort. It will also reduce the tendency of irritation and frustration to build over time and potentially explode, the feedback ensures that adjustments are made along the way.

Any feedback that is based on empathy is often well-received, and colleagues who open up on how their day is and how they feel about things are more efficient at giving each other feedback.

Uncertainty is not knowing – frequent feedback gives a sense of fundamental security.

Logic

Feedback helps the recipient improve. It can be the way they communicate, their presence and behaviour, in addition to actual results. It is easier to act on feedback when the sender describes the situation very specifically, what was an undesirable behaviour and outcome, and how to do things differently next time. The person receiving the feedback must be given the chance to ask questions, and may not agree. That’s OK – be curious about each other’s point of view.

Feedback on other areas than objective results can be delicate. To start from one’s own experience, instead of being accusative, is a way to avoid confrontation. “When you did this – it had this effect on me“. Such a claim cannot be disputed, but be careful – the recipient can become a hostage of your one-sided experience.

I want to get better at giving & receiving feedback, what can I do tomorrow?

Frequent one-on-one meetings

Establish trust by starting a dialogue with your colleagues. I prefer defining a half-hour one-on-one meeting every other week. The meeting can have several purposes – follow up, a nice chat or just to see each other. In times of home office, this is even more important than before. It is also a good opportunity to give feedback when the relation is warm enough.

Team index

Create a “team-index” as a measurable indication of how your team is doing. Start out with a workshop with the team to define areas that are important for you as a team. Examples are performance, good atmosphere, cooperation and work-life balance. Vote for 5-7 areas. Use the index in team meetings approximately once a month. Everybody looks back the previous period and scores the different areas on a scale from 0-5. In a team with high trust, the score can be given openly with a justification – otherwise do an anonymous poll.

The areas with a low score can be discussed and the team can attempt to define measures to improve the score. It is motivating to follow the scores’ development over time. After some time, revisit the areas to see if they still are important, or if there are other areas that are more important to monitor.

Hyper frequent retrospectives

Always do a two-minute retrospective after an important meeting or presentation and ask for feedback from a colleague you trust.

Remember feedback are diamonds

Consider the feedback you get as diamonds – they are given to you by someone who wishes you well so that you can shine brighter and brighter. When someone invests in you in this way – say “thank you“! (And often, a simple “thank you” is enough).

Which feedback advice will you act on?

In that case… Thank you, Hanne! That was packed with ideas & prompts for readers to put into practice or at least try out to see if it works for them.

So, my final challenge for you, dear reader, is to choose one thing you will try doing differently as a result of reading this post. As surely the most sincere thanks you can give someone who provides the diamond of feedback is to act on what is helpful. What will you do differently?