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How to give great feedback? Try this four-step method
Getting feedback is hard. Giving feedback is even harder. Here’s how to do it properly and empower your team.
Michelle Tillis Lederman, CSP, CPA, PCC, is a speaker, trainer, and author specializing in workplace communications and relationships. She was named one of Forbes Top 25 Networking Experts. Her new book is The Connector's Advantage: 7 Mindsets to Grow Your Influence and Impact (2019).
Michelle Tillis Lederman: I love thinking about leveraging the laws of likability when giving feedback. Because feedback is only effective if somebody can receive it. So you want to present feedback, I say, on a silver platter and not on a garbage can lid. You have to remember it’s not about your communication style, It’s about theirs. The best way to develop your people is to flex to them, to empower them, to adapt your style to what they need. That’s a manager. That’s a leader. That’s a coach. So if they’re somebody who really likes direct feedback even if it’s something you’re not comfortable with they will respect and be able to take it in better if you can just get to the point. If you’re somebody who’s really direct and they need a little bit more tact and diplomacy, then you’re going to need to massage your messaging so, again, it can be heard.
There’s a correlation between the speed at which somebody receives that feedback and the importance that they place on it. When you delay feedback, you delay the value you’re placing on it. So, immediacy is important. Now, not in the exact moment; let them have a moment to breathe. But don’t wait more than a day, if you can, if it’s really crucial. You had that weekly meeting; sometimes it will fade from your memory by that point. It becomes less important to you and to them. So make sure you give that feedback quickly and specifically. Don’t just say, 'Oh, I think it went well.' Tell them why you thought it went well. What specifically they did that you thought went well. And then challenge them with the next opportunity. Give them something to keep growing from.
So if you think about the most important law of likability it’s the law of curiosity. And I have a model that you can use to walk through any challenging or feedback conversation that will leverage these laws of likability, starting with curiosity. Curiosity creates connections and connection is important in these conversations because when you are receiving feedback you’re considering your source. And when you don’t value, trust or like source then you might not be really willing to take that information in.
So the model has four parts: ask, elaborate, empower, collaborate. 'Ask' is going to leverage that law of curiosity. Start with a question and make sure that question is open-ended. It’s not, you know: 'Do you think that went well?' Which is implying that you don’t think that went well. Instead, you ask: 'How do you think it went? What do you think went well? What do you think could have gone better?' And get them talking. That’s the key to opening up a feedback conversation, it’s to get the information from them. It actually makes it easier on you as a manager because you see where they’re at, what they already know. They’re bringing information in the room and you can determine, 'Oh, we’re about on the same page,' or 'We have completely different views of the situation.' And that will help kind of tweak the information that you need to bring into the room.
Oftentimes people are much harder on themselves than you will ever be on them. When you ask, the next law of likability is the most important thing: you have to listen. So, listen for the understanding, listen for the concern, listen for a different view or interpretation of the situation. Because we know we’re coming in with a belief about what happened. We need to try to check that assumption at the door and listen for other possibilities, other narratives.
All right, so we’ve asked, we’ve listened. Now it’s your turn as the manager. Ask, elaborate. This is your chance to add information that you might have heard collected from other sources. Be additive. Don’t say, 'Well I heard...' Instead, you’ll say, 'Additionally, I received information from so and so, and this and that,' and you’re bringing in that information: 'My perspective of...' and it could be elevating them. Feedback isn’t always negative. You don’t have to brace them and you don’t have to brace yourself. Feedback is simply information, and it’s information that you want to make somebody able to use and put into action.
So that is the first half of the conversation. Before you move on to the second half what I want you to think about are root causes. What are the root causes and the reasons that it went so well? What are the root causes and the reasons that it didn’t to so well? Is there something that’s underlying that can help us in the second half of this conversation where we’re looking for the solutions? Did you not have training? Did you not have authority? Did you not have budget? What happened? Let’s evaluate that before we move on.
Now, you’re going to throw it back to the other person. You’re going to empower them. Get them to throw the ideas out of what they think the next step should be. So, 'What would you do differently next time?' or 'How do you think we can move forward from here?' are great questions to start the empower phase.
As we empower them and bring those ideas you have to be very careful at that last stage of the conversation where you’re collaborating, because as the manager, as the leader, when you put your idea out there they’re just going to defer. So build off of their ideas: 'I love that. I think in addition you could also do this or maybe even switch the order. What do you think?' The collaboration isn’t a dictation. The collaboration is the exchange. Now another key thing that can happen in that last phase of the feedback, especially when things might not have gone the way that you wanted, is to leverage the law of similarity. By sharing an experience that you went through that might be similar to what they’re experiencing, you create a teachable moment. You build trust. When you’re vulnerable with your employees you actually increase your credibility. So remember vulnerability is not about weakness. It’s about openness. So share the story of how when things didn’t go so well for you what you did, what you learned, how it went and let them know it’s okay. We all make mistakes and we can still get to the positions that you’re in. And the last thing to remember is the law of likability called mood memory. Because if they walk away from that conversation not feeling good, they’re going to want to throw out all of the information that they’ve received. So mood memory is that people remember more how you make them feel than anything that you said. So ensure that you are being action oriented; feedback is not about berating somebody or punishing. You focus on the past to make a plan for the future. That’s feedback.
Want to motivate your team? Learn to give useful feedback. "Likability leadership expert" Michelle Tillis Lederman explains her four-step method that can make feedback conversations go smoothly and funnel toward growth. The steps are: ask, elaborate, empower, and collaborate, and Tillis Lederman explains each thoroughly in this video, as well as adding useful information about timing, tone, checking your biases, and staying action-oriented. "Feedback is not about berating somebody or punishing. You focus on the past to make a plan for the future. That’s feedback," says Lederman. Getting feedback is hard. Giving feedback can be even harder. Here’s how to do it properly and empower your team. Michelle Tillis Lederman's new books are Nail the Interview, Land the Job and The 11 Laws of Likability.
What conditions of the new normal were already appreciated widely?<p>First, we understand that higher education is unique among industries. Some industries are governed by markets. Others are run by governments. Most operate under the influence of both markets and governments. And then there's higher education. Higher education as an "industry" involves public, private, and for-profit universities operating at small, medium, large, and now massive scales. Some higher education industry actors are intense specialists; others are adept generalists. Some are fantastically wealthy; others are tragically poor. Some are embedded in large cities; others are carefully situated near farms and frontiers.</p> <p>These differences demonstrate just some of the complexities that shape higher education. Still, we understand that change in the industry is underway, and we must be active in directing it. Yet because of higher education's unique (and sometimes vexing) operational and structural conditions, many of the lessons from change management and the science of industrial transformation are only applicable in limited or highly modified ways. For evidence of this, one can look at various perspectives, including those that we have offered, on such topics as <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/rethinking-higher-education/lessons-disruption" target="_blank">disruption</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html" target="_blank">technology management</a>, and so-called "<a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Excerpt_IHESpecialReport_Growing-Role-of-Mergers-in-Higher-Ed.pdf" target="_blank">mergers and acquisitions</a>" in higher education. In each of these spaces, the "market forces" and "market rules" for higher education are different than they are in business, or even in government. This has always been the case and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p> <p>Second, with so much excitement about innovation in higher education, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that students are—and should remain—the core cause for innovation. Higher education's capacity to absorb new ideas is strong. But the ideas that endure are those designed to benefit students, and therefore society. This is important to remember because not all innovations are designed with students in mind. The recent history of innovation in higher education includes several cautionary tales of what can happen when institutional interests—or worse, <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/apollos-new-owners-seek-fresh-start-beleaguered-company" target="_blank">shareholder</a> interests—are placed above student well-being.</p>
Photo: Getty Images<p>Third, it is abundantly apparent that universities must leverage technology to increase educational quality and access. The rapid shift to delivering an education that complies with social distancing guidelines speaks volumes about the adaptability of higher education institutions, but this transition has also posed unique difficulties for colleges and universities that had been slow to adopt digital education. The last decade has shown that online education, implemented effectively, can meet or even surpass the quality of in-person <a href="https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/article/10.1007/s10639-019-10027-z" target="_blank">instruction</a>.</p><p>Digital instruction, broadly defined, leverages online capabilities and integrates adaptive learning methodologies, predictive analytics, and innovations in instructional design to enable increased student engagement, personalized learning experiences, and improved learning outcomes. The ability of these technologies to transcend geographic barriers and to shrink the marginal cost of educating additional students makes them essential for delivering education at scale.</p><p>As a bonus, and it is no small thing given that they are the core cause for innovation, students embrace and enjoy digital instruction. It is their preference to learn in a format that leverages technology. This should not be a surprise; it is now how we live in all facets of life.</p><p>Still, we have only barely begun to conceive of the impact digital education will have. For example, emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies that facilitate interactive, hands-on learning will transform the way that learners acquire and apply new knowledge. Technology-enabled learning cannot replace the traditional college experience or ensure the survival of any specific college, but it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale. This has always been the case, and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p>
What conditions of the new normal were emerging suspicions?<p>Our collective thinking about the role of institutional or university-to-university collaboration and networking has benefitted from a new clarity in light of COVID-19. We now recognize more than ever that colleges and universities must work together to ensure that the American higher education system is resilient and sufficiently robust to meet the needs of students and their families.</p> <p>In recent weeks, various commentators have suggested that higher education will face a wave of institutional <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/scott-galloway-predicts-colleges-will-close-due-to-pandemic-2020-5" target="_blank">closures</a> and consolidations and that large institutions with significant online instruction capacity will become dominant.</p> <p>While ASU is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment and among the most well-equipped in online education, we strongly oppose "let them fail" mindsets. The strength of American higher education relies on its institutional diversity, and on the ability of colleges and universities to meet the needs of their local communities and educate local students. The needs of learners are highly individualized, demanding a wide range of options to accommodate the aspirations and learning styles of every kind of student. Education will become less relevant and meaningful to students, and less responsive to local needs, if institutions of higher learning are allowed to fail. </p> <p>Preventing this outcome demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education. This will help institutions with fewer resources adapt to our new normal and continue to fulfill their mission of serving students, their families, and their communities. Many had suspected that collaboration and networking were preferable over letting vulnerable colleges fail. COVID-19's new normal seems to be confirming this.</p>
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images<p>A second condition of the new normal that many had suspected to be true in recent years is the limited role that any one university or type of university can play as an exemplar to universities more broadly. For decades, the evolution of higher education has been shaped by the widespread imitation of a small number of elite universities. Most public research universities could benefit from replicating Berkeley or Michigan. Most small private colleges did well by replicating Williams or Swarthmore. And all universities paid close attention to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. It is not an exaggeration to say that the logic of replication has guided the evolution of higher education for centuries, both in the US and abroad.</p><p>Only recently have we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so. For example, cases such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/10/harvard-moves-classes-online-advises-students-stay-home-after-spring-break-response-covid-19/" target="_blank">Harvard's</a> eviction of students over the course of less than one week or <a href="https://www.nhregister.com/news/coronavirus/article/Mayor-New-Haven-asks-for-coronavirus-help-Yale-15162606.php" target="_blank">Yale's apparent reluctance</a> to work with the city of New Haven, highlight that even higher education's legacy gold standards have limits and weaknesses. We are hopeful that the new normal will include a more active and earnest recognition that we need many types of universities. We think the new normal invites us to rethink the very nature of "gold standards" for higher education.</p>
A graduate student protests MIT's rejection of some evacuation exemption requests.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images<p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had started to suspect and now understand that America's colleges and universities are among the many institutions of democracy and civil society that are, by their very design, incapable of being sufficiently responsive to the full spectrum of modern challenges and opportunities they face. Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted. And without new designs, we can expect postsecondary success for these same students to be as elusive in the new normal, as it was in the <a href="http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/reports_2019.shtml" target="_blank">old normal</a>. This is not just because some universities fail to sufficiently recognize and engage the promise of diversity, this is because few universities have been designed from the outset to effectively serve the unique needs of lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color.</p>
Where can the new normal take us?<p>As colleges and universities face the difficult realities of adapting to COVID-19, they also face an opportunity to rethink their operations and designs in order to respond to social needs with greater agility, adopt technology that enables education to be delivered at scale, and collaborate with each other in order to maintain the dynamism and resilience of the American higher education system.</p> <p>COVID-19 raises questions about the relevance, the quality, and the accessibility of higher education—and these are the same challenges higher education has been grappling with for years. </p> <p>ASU has been able to rapidly adapt to the present circumstances because we have spent nearly two decades not just anticipating but <em>driving</em> innovation in higher education. We have adopted a <a href="https://www.asu.edu/about/charter-mission-and-values" target="_blank">charter</a> that formalizes our definition of success in terms of "who we include and how they succeed" rather than "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/17/forget-varsity-blues-madness-lets-talk-about-students-who-cant-afford-college/" target="_blank">who we exclude</a>." We adopted an entrepreneurial <a href="https://president.asu.edu/read/higher-logic" target="_blank">operating model</a> that moves at the speed of technological and social change. We have launched initiatives such as <a href="https://www.instride.com/how-it-works/" target="_blank">InStride</a>, a platform for delivering continuing education to learners already in the workforce. We developed our own robust technological capabilities in ASU <a href="https://edplus.asu.edu/" target="_blank">EdPlus</a>, a hub for research and development in digital learning that, even before the current crisis, allowed us to serve more than 45,000 fully online students. We have also created partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions in order to mutually strengthen our capabilities for educational accessibility and quality; this includes our role in co-founding the <a href="https://theuia.org/" target="_blank">University Innovation Alliance</a>, a consortium of 11 public research universities that share data and resources to serve students at scale. </p> <p>For ASU, and universities like ASU, the "new normal" of a post-COVID world looks surprisingly like the world we already knew was necessary. Our record breaking summer 2020 <a href="https://asunow.asu.edu/20200519-sun-devil-life-summer-enrollment-sets-asu-record" target="_blank">enrollment</a> speaks to this. What COVID demonstrates is that we were already headed in the right direction and necessitates that we continue forward with new intensity and, we hope, with more partners. In fact, rather than "new normal" we might just say, it's "go time." </p>
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