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Useful feedback follows a template

Tip number eight of eight - use a predictable template when giving feedback.


I've learned and taught a lot about feedback over the years, but when I really mastered using a feedback template, a flip switched and I was no longer terrified to give feedback. I had the confidence that my words were going to come out making sense and that I wasn't going to be hijacked by my emotions in the middle of the process. (I don't know about you, but sometimes when I'm in high-emotional-stakes conversations, my brain just turns into a blender and all my ideas get mushed together. It does not make for easy communication.)


The feedback template is sort of a cross between a Mad Libs and the structure of an improv game - you never know quite what, exactly, is going to come out, but you know that it will be sound, organized, and stand a very good chance of being received and understood. (Though people are made out of human and there are no guarantees.)


Before using the model to communicate your feedback, I recommend just checking in with the recipient to make sure they're ok and ready to receive some feedback. As I teach: Start with Care and Noticing. While the models are built to help make delivering feedback more repeatable, they're not meant to remove the human component from the interaction.


Two models are essentially identical: the CAR model and the STAR/AR model, and I like them both, though I primarily teach the STAR/AR model because it allows me to sound like a pirate (and everyone loves that).


Both models start the same way, by creating some Context (CAR) by sharing the Situation or Task (STAR) about which you're giving feedback. You set the scene and allow the recipient to catch up to where you are. This also makes sure your feedback is tied to a specific example that (ideally) recently happened. It prevents you from getting five minutes into a feedback conversation before the other person knows they're getting feedback. It may sound like:

  • "When you were giving your recap..."

  • "While we were in the client's office..."

  • "This morning, during our meeting..."

  • "While you were talking a minute ago..."

  • "In yesterday's meeting..."


The next thing you share is the Action that was or was not taken. This is the observable behavior that someone did or did not do. It should be objective and something that reasonable people who were in the situation with you would agree actually happened. It might sound like:

  • "Slide three was rushed...,"

  • "You were looking at your phone the whole time..."

  • "You may not have noticed this, but your notebook pushed some of my papers into the trash..."

  • "I heard you say that I'm not meeting standards..."

  • "You really supported Morris...,"


Then (and this is the step most managers skip), you share the Result of that action. What made you give this feedback in the first place? Why is taking this feedback important? What can the recipient learn from the feedback? This is usually where you share the impetus for speaking up -- especially if you think the person doesn't know or understand the reason. It could sound like:

  • "...and you lost the audience."

  • "...and the client didn't take you seriously."

  • "...and I've lost weeks of handwritten notes."

  • "...and I'm not sure what you mean by that."

  • "...and he gave his first presentation with real confidence."


You could stop here. You've identified an example of a behavior, pointed it out, and shared the impact of that behavior. To make my point, here's what all our examples would sound like:

  • "When you were giving your recap, slide three was rushed and you lost the audience."

  • "While we were in the client's office, you were looking at your phone the whole time, and the client didn't take you seriously."

  • "This morning, during our meeting, you may not have noticed this, but your notebook pushed some of my papers into the trash and I've lost weeks of handwritten notes."

  • "While you were talking a minute ago, I heard you say I'm not meeting standards and I'm not sure what you mean by that."

  • "In yesterday's meeting, you really supported Morris and he gave his first presentation with real confidence."


This is already better than "good job helping Morris," or "Don't go so fast," or "Put away your phone!" But we can do more.


The AR part of the model (which I like to growl like a pirate -- "arrrrrrrrgh!") is about what the other person could possibly have done differently and how it might have turned out. (This is usually what you're thinking in your head -- if you slowed down on slide three you wouldn't have lost the audience.) Sometimes the alternative action is clear and sometimes you just know it could have been "better." Whenever humanly possible, try to identify what, exactly, could have been done better or differently so you can guide the performance next time. (But read on to the bottom for some other ideas.)


So you share an Alternative Action that might have been possible in the situation. It can sound like this:

  • "Going forward, aim to slow down on the text-heavy slides...,"

  • "When you talk to the client again, go in without your phone..."

  • "When we meet next time, would you mind not putting your stuff on my desk?"

  • "Can you please clarify what standards you think I'm not meeting?"

  • "Next time, let's see what other support Morris could use..."


Then wrap up with an Alternative Result they're likely to see if they take your suggested action. Sometimes this feels painfully obvious and you might be tempted to skip it -- maybe it's clear to you that the client takes people more seriously if they're not on their phone - but part of the reason we give feedback is to share information others may not know that we know. Here's how they all might sound put together fully:

  • "When you were giving your recap, slide three was rushed and you lost the audience. Going forward, aim to slow down on the text-heavy slides and you might find the team has more feedback."

  • "While we were in the client's office, you were looking at your phone the whole time, and the client didn't take you seriously. When you talk to the client again, go in without your phone. She may pay more attention to your ideas."

  • "This morning, during our meeting, you may not have noticed this, but your notebook pushed some of my papers into the trash and I've lost weeks of handwritten notes. When we meet next time, would you mind not putting your stuff on my desk? It would keep my mess from overflowing."

  • "While you were talking a minute ago, I heard you say I'm not meeting standards and I'm not sure what you mean by that. Can you please clarify what standards you think I'm not meeting? That will help me respond to your comment."

  • "In yesterday's meeting, you really supported Morris and he gave his first presentation with real confidence. Next time, let's see what other support Morris could use so we can help him present without you."


Now, what if you're not comfortable suggesting Alternative Actions and sharing potential Alternative Results? You're in luck! Instead of making suggestions, you can simply ask a question and see what the other person thinks a better plan of action might be. For example, you could say:

  • "What could you do differently next time to get more feedback from the team?"

  • "What do you think would be different if you left your phone behind during your next meeting?"

  • "What can we do differently next time so I don't lose paperwork?"

  • "What ideas do you have about how we can keep this positive momentum going for Morris?"


(You'll notice I didn't give an alternative for the "meeting standards" conversation. Asking the other person for ideas on what to do differently doesn't work in all situations. You also have to ask an open-ended question without judgment or a preconceived notion of what the answer should be. The last thing you want is that schoolmarm feeling of being belittled or made to feel stupid.)


Want more support on giving feedback or some training for your team? Book some time with me to chat!




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