Providing Feedback

Learning Objectives

Identify how to respond productively to others.

Several aspects of feedback have been discussed thus far. It is worth reiterating that people give feedback all the time, just like people are listeners all the time. While feedback is given frequently, how well it is done is another matter entirely. Just like active listening takes practice, effective feedback does too.

Some speakers like for the audience to hold their comments until the end. Others like more interaction with the audience and encourage comments throughout their presentation. In either case, how the feedback is delivered is important to consider. For speakers who allow for questions throughout the presentation, questions can help both the listener and the speaker. The listener can show that they are engaged but may need clarification based on their question. The communicator now knows that they may need to make their points more clearly, or may need to go over the point again for the benefit of the group.

A man looking out the window

Too much negative feedback can make people disengage.

When giving verbal feedback, you want the feedback receiver to be open to what is said. Therefore, how the feedback is given is important. Let’s consider the following scenario. Juan spent a month preparing a webinar for his team at work. During the opening session, Juan pauses and asks if there are any questions. One of the teammates says to Juan, “what you said makes no sense at all.” How do you think that Juan feels? He probably feels pretty bad, which could negatively influence his performance during the rest of the webinar.

Providing verbal feedback that focuses negatively on the speaker personally should be avoided. There is no gain from telling the presenter (or a friend) that “what you said makes no sense at all.” The negativity can cause the person to close their mind to anything else you have to say, which essentially shuts down the person’s ability to listen actively to the feedback. Now, keep in mind that there are differences in interpersonal relationships and cultures. What is considered negative by some may not be negative in others. Again, it is important to consider the group context.

This is where effective feedback practice is essential. Let’s go back to Juan. The teammate really does not understand what he is saying. It is a good idea to tell Juan that he is lost. One way to tell Juan he is lost is to give negative feedback in a positive format. To do this, the teammate starts with saying something positive, “I’m really enjoying this webinar.” Then moves on to be specific about the item not understood and not focus on Juan as a speaker. “Could xxx be clarified further? I really want to understand xxx.” This method is called the sandwich method.

The Sandwich Method

A lettuce, tomato, and cucumber sandwich.The sandwich method is when a person delivers negative feedback by placing it between positive statements. Let’s take the response above: “I’m really enjoying this webinar. Could xxx be clarified further? I really want to understand xxx.” First, be honest with your positive statement. Observe behaviors that you like. The teammate does this by saying they enjoy the webinar; they are noting that their watching the webinar (behavior) is positive. This affirming statement helps the speaker to feel more open and confident about their presentation. Then, by stating what is problematic specifically takes the negative feedback away from a personal criticism.

Notice that the listener avoided the pronoun you. The pronoun you makes it seem like the person did something wrong; it makes the feedback personal. Therefore, “what you said makes no sense at all” focuses on Juan because he is the one speaking. Saying “Could xxx be clarified further?” moves the question away from the personal to a more specific item.

The teammate finished by stating, “I really want to understand xxx.” This is a positive statement. It shows the speaker that they are engaged in the webinar, are actively listening, and are invested in the overall content. Thus, in this case, the sandwich method does a nice job of framing a negative statement (do not understand) into a positive comment that solicits clarification.

Some speakers prefer that all comments and questions are given at the end of the presentation. If this is the case, it is helpful to write down what question or comment you have in the moment. You don’t have to write much. Just write enough that it will remind you what you wanted to say, or ask, at the end of the speech. This technique allows you to spend a very short amount of time writing so you can continue actively listening to the communicator.

For most speech classes, you will be providing feedback to your peers. It is a great way to practice giving effective feedback; it will help you with providing usable feedback throughout your life. In many cases, you will be giving this feedback through a form your educator furnishes. You can apply the same feedback elements in the written form. Remember to listen and observe actively, focus on behaviors, be specific, and be reasonable. You can write what went well and mean it. You can also state where there is room for improvement in a reasonable, specific, and behavior-focused manner.

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