Feedback as an opportunity for constructive dialogue

There are a lot of misconceptions about the practice of giving feedback and many people shy away from it, fearing the dialogue could become unpleasant. Giving feedback is often used as a way to make a judgement about the other person or their actions. The feedback giver may use it as a vehicle for telling the receiver how to be something else, or to do things in what they consider to be a better way. Frequently, feedback is only given when something goes wrong and it seeks to impose the solution of the feedback giver. This runs the risk of creating resistance and frustration. In fact, feedback can and should be seen as a tool to build trust and find mutually agreed WIN-WIN solutions within the context of an overall personal development and performance plan.

With this aim in mind, feedback has the potential to become a real two-way conversation and exchange. The way to do this is for the feedback giver to incorporate appropriate questions into the dialogue. Asking questions (instead of always telling) creates the space for the person receiving the feedback to come up with their own suggestions and become an integral part of finding options and solutions moving forward. Shaping the dialogue in this way allows both parties to reflect together on the ideal outcome, take into consideration the likely impact of agreed actions on any stakeholders implicated, and decide together how best to achieve the goal.

What does this mean specifically for you as the feedback giver? In the first phase of feedback, you can focus as usual on referring to the specific situation and describe the action carried out by the other person and its impact. Instead of then simply proposing your recommended alternative course of action, you ask questions like “What would have been a better outcome?” and then “With the benefit of hindsight, what could you have done differently?” Encouraged by your questions, the other person will in all likelihood come up with ideas and alternatives of their own. Ultimately, this will have a positive impact on such things as engagement, motivation and their sense of ownership.

When you ask questions with genuine curiosity and interest in the answers, the other person will feel more comfortable at opening up and you may be surprised at the richness of their ideas and thoughts. The relationship is strengthened, along with mutual trust. When you tackle feedback in this way, it moves from being something that you dread doing to something that you do naturally, willingly and skilfully at any possible occasion.


Why not sign up for our Member’s Only Area? You can download The 6-Step Model for Coaching during Feedback and follow tips from Cristina and Maureen’s Toolbox about how to apply the model and develop a constructive dialogue.  


Post first published in the Coaching for Innovation October 2016 Newsletter.