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Feedback – guidelines for leveling with not leveling

Hy Resnick

Some child care agencies send their supervisors and staff to workshops to improve their interpersonal effectiveness. Feedback – the provision of information about a person to another person (or persons) after receiving permission to do – is an activity that frequently takes place in these workshops. The rationale for participating in such a sensitive and impactful process is the hope that agency personnel who receive honest and supportive information about their interpersonal style can increase their effectiveness with the clients. It also has potential for improving relationship with coworkers.

Since this activity has great potential for improving (or damaging) interpersonal relations in the agency, this column will focus on guidelines for giving (and receiving) feedback which can help make that process a constructive one.

Guidelines to Giving Feedback

1. Get permission. If the feedback is between two persons then its necessary to obtain both persons' willingness and agreement to participate. If feedback takes place in a group then all the members of the group must agree to participate.

2. Describe behaviors. When giving feedback to others it is more useful to describe their behaviors than interpret them. It is useful to say something like “At last week’s staff meeting you came late, interrupted an important discussion that was focused on a topic that we've been avoiding for months, and it pissed me off.” It is less useful to say “You’re always late and screwing things up.”

3. Be timely. It is not helpful to tell someone “You made me mad last year when you didn’t support me.” It’s more helpful to give feedback as close to the event as possible – keeping in mind at the same time that it is seldom wise to speak in the heat of anger.

4. No name calling. Avoid saying things like “you’re an airhead” or “you are a real jerk” (or worse). Stick to talking about specific behaviors that another person does that doesn’t sit right with you.

5. Be specific. If you’re a supervisor giving feedback to a staff member comments like “Good job Joe” or “Lauretta – you need to improve your work” are vague and not helpful. Tell Joe or Lauretta specifically what they are doing or not doing that is contributing to sub-par performance or is excellent work. Be concrete and work hard to be neutral in tone.

6. Focus should be on the behaviors of others not their motivations and psychodynamics. Child care workers are trained in recognizing and analyzing the various motivations and dynamics of their clients – but be cautious about using that insight and skill with your co-workers, since it can be threatening and will usually elicit defensiveness .

7. Be caring rather than indifferent or angry. When giving feedback its most important to avoid giving feedback when you’re angry and wanting to punish. Feedback is such a potent tool that it requires much tact and sensitivity to be effective. General rule – if you’re angry wait a while before giving feedback.

As these guidelines suggest, the feedback process is a delicate one where much professional discipline is needed to make it work. Feedback is more effective if the recipient of feedback can make use of some the following guidelines:

Guidelines for Receiving Feedback

If possible when persons are giving you feedback, see if you can help them do it better by:

  1. asking them to be specific and non-judgemental

  2. paraphrasing their comments to make sure you’re understanding their point. You can also ask them if your paraphrase indicates that you heard them as they wished to be heard.

  3. grit your teeth and struggle to not be defensive – not easy but if you can be open to the feedback of otherswithout being defensive you can learn something that might help improve your interpersonal effectiveness – which after all is the purpose for participating in these workshops.

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