Written by Susan McCormack
I feel that the feedback we use on a day-to-day basis tends to be ‘fault-focused’ and negative and this is not just to do with teaching people to drive, it happens all the time. The only occasions we offer someone feedback is when we want to criticise them and then we try to wrap it up in a praise sandwich, which leaves the receiver feeling demoralised and demotivated. It would often have been better to say nothing at all.
The point of feedback is to help the other person develop their critical-thinking and self-evaluation skills. In this respect, feedback is a coaching skill, where coaching raises awareness and builds responsibility.
I have written about this a lot – but I think it is really important to focus on these two phrases to develop an understanding of the point of coaching. ‘Raising awareness’ means facilitating the person’s self-awareness of how their thoughts and feelings affect and motivate their behaviour so that they can learn to manage their thoughts and feelings more effectively to produce positive, social interactions. ‘Building responsibility’ follows from raised self-awareness, where we take ownership of the interactions and communications we have with others to produce positive outcomes. Both of these things combine in emotional intelligence.
The next point I want to make is that coaching is based on the belief that learning comes from within. This is a belief about how learning takes place. We used to believe that learning took place through a transfer of knowledge and information from the ‘expert’ to the ‘learner’. This is an old-fashioned and out of date belief.
We now know so much more about how the brain works and the importance of being able to learn through experimentation, followed by reflection and further practice. It is our job to facilitate this process with the feedback we use – not just with our customers but in our everyday lives. To achieve this, we must have an equal, non-judgemental relationship with our customers so that we can help raise their awareness of how their thoughts and feelings motivate their behaviour with questions like, ‘How did that make you feel?’ ‘What thoughts were going through your head then?’
We cannot do this in a hierarchical relationship because that would pre-suppose that we know how they think and how they feel, when we don’t. The equal relationship is vital here precisely because we have no idea how they think or feel – and possibly, they do not either, so we need to stimulate these kind of reflective processes in them.
We need to recognise that we interfere with people’s self-development when we offer our opinion.
Our aim should be ‘goal-focused’ feedback rather than ‘fault-focused’ feedback. Client-centred learning techniques and coaching skills encourage goal-focused feedback.
Let’s take a look at two examples:
‘Okay, how do you think that went?’
‘Yeah, okay, I think …’
‘Yep, not bad … quite good actually. However, there are a couple of areas where you need to focus attention. Your speed was too high as you steered back and you weren’t looking in the right places – you didn’t notice that car coming did you? Also, you have ended up too far away from the kerb. But, overall, not a bad attempt. Let’s have another go and I’ll remind you with the speed and the observations.’
This example is a praise sandwich. The purpose of the feedback is for the ‘expert’ instructor to develop the pupil by pointing out their mistakes, in order to produce a ‘test-ready’ manoeuvre. The focus is on behaviour with no allusion to thoughts and feelings and no attempt to raise the pupil’s self-awareness of their strengths and weaknesses; or build their self-responsibility.
‘Okay, remind me what your goal was with this manoeuvre?’
‘Err, I wanted to get the car in close to the kerb.’
‘Shall we get out of the car and have a look so that you can tell me whether you achieved your goal?’
‘It looks too far away to me. What do you think?’
‘If you were parking your car to go and see a friend, would you be happy to leave it this distance from the kerb?’
‘No, someone might hit it because it is sticking out too much.’
‘Okay, so how will you get the car closer to the kerb next time? Talk me through what you did and what you would change.’
‘Let’s have another go. Remember your goal of getting close to the kerb and we’ve agreed that you want to practise this without any help from me. As before, I will let you concentrate on the goal and manage the risk by doing the observations for you. Also, if I feel you are going a little fast, I will prompt you to slow down. How does that sound?’
Goal-focused feedback is much more rewarding because it involves the pupil in the process and encourages them to work things out for themselves. They can make mistakes and learn from these in their own way because you are managing the risk and they are focusing on the goal.