Don’t you tell me what to do! Giving & receiving constructive feedback.

“Don’t you tell me what to do!” This is the phrase I would hear flying through the air numerous times a day from the handyman helping us renovate our house as my father-in-law offered his opinions on the proper way to lay tile or hang cabinets. They were friends, so it was often said with a wink and a smile, but always also with a bit of true sentiment. How often do you feel this resistance, this defensiveness creeping up when someone shares a critique of your work? Are you dying to yell out, “Don’t you tell me what to do!”?

I was thinking about this last Thursday evening when I attended my local Toastmasters meeting to fulfill a role as Speech Evaluator. As a speech evaluator, my job was to listen to a member deliver her prepared speech and offer constructive feedback on what the speaker did well as well as areas of improvement.

Toastmasters encourages use of the basic sandwich method for evaluation:

  1. First, highlight strengths demonstrated by the speaker. What did the speaker do well and in which areas did she meet her speech objectives?
  2. Second, outline areas for improvement. What could the speaker have done to make the speech more effective?
  3. Third, finish by highlighting additional strengths of the presentation. Finish with a positive note of encouragement. The goal is to encourage learning and progress.

I believe area #2, the middle of the sandwich – that’s where all the good stuff is, right? – is most important.  How specifically could the speaker have made the speech more powerful? Were there missed opportunities for more dynamic body language, vocal variety, better eye contact, different word choice? It is easy to keep this section general, being cautious not to hurt the feelings or ego of the speaker, but is that really what’s best for the speaker’s improvement?

In juggling, feedback can often be the difference between mastering a new trick and spending hours stuck repeating the same mistakes, preventing progress. My team building workshop participants share this experience firsthand. When working with a partner, they consistently report that their partner is able to point out things they didn’t see or realize they were doing (hands throwing different heights, asymmetrical posture, etc). Sometimes their partner is able to help them think differently about the juggling pattern by using different audio or visual cues that they wouldn’t have thought to try. The result is faster progress and less misguided effort and frustration.

Of course, the effectiveness of any evaluation is influenced by the unique experience, personality and style of both the evaluator and the individual being evaluated.  Each of us brings different analytical skills, opinions, preferences, and biases to the table. Back to the Toastmasters model…as the evaluator, it is important to understand the speaker’s goals and personality to help communicate suggestions in a manner that will be received. As the speaker, it is important to be open and receptive to feedback, but also to understand who those ideas are coming from, process them, and decide which suggestions fit and which may be discarded. Not all feedback will resonate with you or feel like the right choice. Know yourself and be authentic. It’s a balancing act.

What I do know for sure is that we make a lot more progress more quickly when we can process, adapt and utilize insights and suggestions from those with more expertise and experience.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic – either as someone who gives coaching advice, receives it, or BOTH!

Leave a comment below to share what’s worked for you.