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Useful Feedback Focuses on Behavior

When I was acting, I got a lot of feedback that really wasn't helpful.

"You're too tall for this role."

"We need someone older."

"We already have enough Non-Equity actors."

While I have gotten both shorter and older since I received the feedback (yay?), at the time, there wasn't anything I could do about the information I was hearing, and it was so frustrating. I thought feedback was supposed to help me get better, not just get angry.

Once I became a manager, I was able to focus on the importance of giving feedback about something the employee could change. I realized I couldn't change anyone's personality, mentality, or point of view. (Or whether they wanted to be my boyfriend or not, but that's another story.) But I could change their behavior, which is essentially how personality, mentality, and POV are expressed.

To make your feedback useful, you have to focus on objective, observable behavior. Not your interpretation of the behavior (which is subjective), but the actions, words, or gestures that you (and others) can observe.  These are the things that people can change. 

Try to avoid giving feedback on things you conclude, surmise, or interpret based on what you’ve seen.  Subjective feedback is often a feeling that you have, not something observable or factual. Most subjective feedback (essentially labels or judgments) can be broken down into an action or a series of actions that the person has taken (or not taken) -- those are what you should give feedback on.



Pat is lazy.

Pat has missed deadlines, or been late to meetings, or had multiple typos in an important email, or isn't participating in any cross-departmental projects

Jamie has a bad attitude.

Jamie rolled their eyes, or sighed, or was shaking a foot in a meeting, or was sitting with arms crossed, or was interrupting, or was using an unpleasant tone of voice, or was disrespectful of a teammate.

Sam is unprofessional.

Sam appeared unprepared for the meeting, or used language that was too casual for the setting (like "dude" and "man"), or was interrupting, or was nervous about speaking up, or couldn't get through a presentation without saying "um" repeatedly.

You may have different behaviors that comprise the judgment of "lazy," "bad attitude," or "unprofessional," which is why it's so critical to give feedback on the behaviors.

And imagine if you were to give feedback using the subjective words -- wouldn't you likely be met with the response, "What do you mean?"


This resource outlines several other subjective/judgmental words and actions or behaviors that would be better material for feedback.

If you can build this skill, feedback will become less personal, making it easier to give.

Keep in mind that the point of feedback is to improve behavior -- passing judgment on someone does not improve behavior.  It usually does the opposite. 

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Jan 16
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

So true!

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