One of the questions on the growth mindset quiz that we use to help our clients (and ourselves) assess our growth mindset is this:
“I appreciate when instructors and coaches give me feedback about my performance.”
You know how you’re supposed to answer that question, right? Of course, you do. You know that you’re supposed to say that you appreciate the feedback you get from instructors and coaches. But think about the last time your boss, your teacher or a coach said to you, “well that’s a good start, but here are some things to work on.” Maybe you weren’t overjoyed. Maybe you felt some resentment. If you did, it’s a normal, human reaction.
Most of us, at least at one level, would rather hear, “that presentation is outstanding.” Or, “what an incredible idea you came up with.” Or, “that’s really exceptional work.”
It’s great to hear that kind of feedback. It makes us feel good. But what if that presentation wasn’t really outstanding? What if that idea wasn’t really incredible. What if the work wasn’t really exceptional? What if there was room for improvement?
Feedback is an essential part of learning and improvement. We can’t get better at what we do without feedback. A growth mindset is about learning and growing and recognizing that feedback is essential.
But here’s one thing about feedback. Not all feedback is created equal. So here are some things I have learned about feedback (both giving and receiving) that I can recommend.
When giving feedback, consider your relationship to the person you are providing feedback to. If you are their teacher, their coach or their boss, feedback is built into the role. If the relationship is something else, though, think carefully about how your phrase the feedback, at least if you want it to be taken seriously.
When providing feedback, examine your own intention. If you wouldn’t provide the feedback anonymously and in private to the person – that is completely without another agenda than helping them learn and improve – don’t do it. Pure and simple, leave it alone.
Providing specific, useful and actionable feedback is not always easy, but it is a vital skill to develop. And I need to confess that this has not always been one of my strengths. Today, the feedback I get from students and colleagues is how specific and helpful my feedback is. So clearly this is a skill we can learn and bet better at. One of the comments I used to use in reviewing and grading a business case analysis for the MBA students was to write the work “Huh?” next to a sentence of a paragraph I didn’t understand. I learned (through indirect feedback by the way) that that didn’t really help my students. And interestingly the reason was that it led them to question my intention. The fact is, it was difficult to be clear and specific and actionable when really I had no idea what they were trying to say. But I adapted my approach, and now will say something more like, “I’m not clear on what you are saying here; I can read it a number of different ways. And then often, I’ll list the different ways I could interpret it. If you’d like to discuss to clarify the ideas, I am available.” It’s actually what I meant by “huh?” but it certainly didn’t play the same way.
Recently, my feedback was solicited and I think the situation illustrates the three points. My nephew, working on college applications, asked for feedback on an essay. Actually, his mother was the one who brought it up, so I first did everything I could to assure that he was really open to the feedback and would benefit from it. He passed that test – and in fact, this is a young man who despite (or perhaps because of!) his extremely high achievement academically has a strong growth mindset, some of which I attribute to his affinity for science.
I didn’t nitpick or try to edit his essay. What I did was
So, how does this stack up against the three points?
First, the feedback was solicited, meaning that my nephew considered me (which I also know from my many wonderful interactions with him over the years) someone with some expertise that he didn’t have.
Second, the intention was absolutely to be supportive and helpful and to help him enhance his own self-critical skills.
Third, the feedback was specific and actionable. My nephew asked some questions and I could clarify. When he “got it” and said so, great. I didn’t keep on trying to drive home a point already made.
I’m sure I didn’t get it all right (some of the science was beyond me), but I do think the feedback, given with expertise and the right intent, and at the right level of specificity, resulted in learning. My learning as well as my nephew’s. That’s the thing. When we approach feedback from the perspective or learning and with a growth mindset, the paradigm is that both the learner and the provider of feedback can learn to do their jobs better.
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