I remember the first time that I gave someone feedback. I was in 1st Grade and was standing at the water fountain with another little girl. We had just completed a test and received our scores from the teacher. I asked the other girl, “What did you get?” Excited she responded, “A 95!”
I scoffed and said, “That’s not very good. I got 100!”
::Insert face palm emoji here::
It’s a miracle that I ever had any friends growing up. I was (and sometimes still am) an Insufferable Know It All.
I tell you this story for two reasons. First of all, to set the stage to let you know that I was not naturally good at giving feedback. I didn’t emerge from the womb and my mom exclaimed, “Oh, this is a little girl who is going to give great evaluations!”
Secondly, to let you know that I was not great at receiving feedback either. Anything short of praise was considered criticism and as a perfectionist – I did NOT handle criticism.
So what changed?
Honestly, it was Toastmasters. While many individuals get involved in Toastmasters to improve their public speaking skills, I found that the Evaluation and Feedback processes to be of the most value. Feedback is built into the meeting. Each speaker is assigned an Evaluator, and then each Evaluator is even evaluated by the individual filling the role of General Evaluator.
It was in this safe and positive learning environment that I learned to give and receive feedback – and then to actively solicit it. I came to realize that perfection was an illusion and only GROWTH matters.
When I became an Area Director in Toastmasters and mentored 5 clubs in the Arlington, Grand Prairie, and Mansfield areas, I came to realize that I wasn’t the only person who did not find the process of giving evaluations to come naturally. Many great leaders and speakers, particularly women, still struggled with the skill of providing feedback. They were afraid of hurting someone’s feelings or of not doing it right. It was to fill this need that I created a presentation workshop called PERFECT Evaluations – the irony isn’t lost on me.
The PERFECT Evaluations process is an acronym:
P – Praise
E – Enthusiasm
R – Respect
F – Focus
E – Encouragement
C – Citing Examples
T – Training
This is what I believe to be the ideal process for providing feedback to others.
Mary Poppins says, “A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down” and so it is with praise and feedback. I don’t care whether you are in the workplace or in your home, if you begin with a criticism, the listener will usually become defensive. Praise is the plow that prepares the other person’s mind to be prepared and ready for growth.
Cheerleaders are an integral part of many sports and pep rallies. Enthusiasm is contagious and feedback is no exception. If you are dreading the process of giving or receiving feedback, then it will be a chore. But if you can change your perspective and look at every bit of feedback as a learning opportunity, for yourself and others, then your enthusiasm for this process will build and be shared.
I love the word, “namaste” – the divinity in me sees and acknowledges the divinity in you. We can approach feedback with an understanding of the divine nature of the person with whom we are communicating and the opportunity for each of us to become our best selves. Respect is integral to this process.
This word can also be an acronym – Follow One Course Until Successful. Whether I am evaluating a speech, tutoring a student, or providing feedback to my husband, I never give more than 2 or 3 things for the other person to improve upon. More than that and the other person may feel overwhelmed, disengaged, or discouraged. As a provider of feedback I have the opportunity to help the other person focus on what will have the greatest results on their journey to improvement. Once he or she has seen success in those areas and felt the confidence and accomplishment therein, then I may provide other opportunities for improvement. But never too much all at once. While the phrase “drinking from a firehose” has become a norm in corporate training culture, I find it to be an ineffective and lazy form of teaching.
Encouragement means that I am telling the other person I believe in their ability to accomplish these improvements. Letting the other person know, “You can do it” is another fundamental aspect of successful feedback.
Whether it is in resume writing or in stand-up comedy, specificity of language is an essential tool. The same goes for evaluations and feedback. While a picture may be worth 1,000 words, specificity is the art of creating pictures with your words. There is nothing so frustrating as desiring to improve and having someone say, “Oh you did great” or “That wasn’t good”. What was great!? Which part wasn’t good!? Be specific in your praise as well as in stating what you think could be improved upon.
“Don’t tell me, show me”. Simulation is the ultimate form of feedback. In fact, when looking at the learning pyramid, just stating something or having someone read is significantly less effective for learning than modeling the behavior you are trying to teach. This is why I also adhere to quotes such as, “Don’t take criticism from someone from whom you wouldn’t go to for advice” and “Only take advice from people who have what you want.” The ability to show me how I can improve is a determining factor in my choice of whom I listen to and whom I politely ignore.
While the PERFECT Evaluations process is designed for giving feedback to others, how could you use it to provide yourself with feedback? When you speak to yourself do you begin with praise and respect? Could you identify specific opportunities for improvement and find someone modeling those behaviors? Do you encourage yourself and believe in your abilities?
I’ve come a long way from that precocious and critical girl standing at the water fountain all those years ago. I believe that giving and receiving feedback is a skill that can be learned. I also believe that proactively seeking improvement is a lifestyle, and one that the most successful choose to embrace.
Connect with Kim here.