We often hear the phrase “constructive criticism” used for coaching or feedback. But there’s really no such thing; criticism is criticism. The word is defined as “the act of passing judgment,” and that’s what it’s about in the mind of the receiver: “He’s judging my performance negatively.” Consequently, the receiver tends to tune out to the message as no one wants to be judged by another.
“But,” you say “that’s always been the model. Just look at coaching in sports!”
Yes, we’ve seen coaches take their players aside right after the performance and point out what could have gone better. If they are world-class athletes their self-motivation is strong enough to pay attention to anything in the message that might help them improve. For most players, though, all they want to do is get it over with and escape the coach’s criticism.
Why should this be? Coaches are obviously interested in their players improving, and have the best of intentions when giving their feedback. So what’s the problem?
It’s all about timing.
We addressed some basic principles on applying the right kind of feedback in a previous article and will build on that here. When we receive formative feedback after a performance, there is nothing we can do with it to change the performance that already occurred. Formative feedback is most useful when it can be immediately applied.
So, if you are coaching someone on a safety-leadership activity because of poor performance, the time to coach her on the correct performance is immediately before she is about to perform the activity again. If the activity is a regular, recurring part of her role, then great; wait for the next instance and then provide the feedback:
‘Suzanne, last time you conducted a safety observation, I noticed that you missed a potential trip hazard on the west side of the warehouse. Someone had left an extension cord lying across the floor and it looks like you just walked by it without saying anything. I know you’re working hard to help us build our safety culture and promote our safety management plan. Can you suggest some things that you might do differently in your next safety observation?”
Suzanne now comes away from this interaction feeling resolved to do better next time, and not feeling judged or criticized.
Of course this does not apply to positive feedback. That should be delivered immediately upon witnessing good performance that you want to see repeated. The same is true of any imminent danger situations; coach it now and don’t wait.
“Wait,” you say, “I understand the importance of timing, but I’m not always going to be there the next time she performs that activity.” In that case, write down your feedback, put it in an envelope (making it more directive than asking a question), and give it to her before the next scheduled activity:
“Suzanne, I have some feedback for you on that activity. I probably won’t be here the next time you conduct that activity, so please open this and read it before you begin. There’s some information in it that can help you perform that activity more effectively, but it’s best if you read it just prior to doing it.”
Then hand her the envelope and let your written advise do its work. And be sure to up with her afterwards to see how that activity went for her.
That’s it for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS. Until next time.
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