Lesson 73: Giving Feedback Using 'BUT'

We all need people to give feedback. That's how we improve (Bill Gates). Feedback would help to improve performances. Hence, giving feedback or comment is one of my tasks. I used to comment frankly about the weaknesses. I did not consider about their feelings because I was the one who did the evaluation, not the one being evaluated.

"Anna, your presentation wasn't well prepared, too soft spoken, the audience couldn't hear you clearly. I hope you can do better next time," Anna nodded with slight dismay sliding over her face.

"Sean, I couldn't see any important point in your presentation. Please clarify the topic before the presentation next time." Sean answered playfully, "Ok."

"Hey, why did you so upset because I'm doing this for your own good?" I always wondered, "I don't care whether you are happy or not happy but I will still give you comments so that you can improve yourself."

Giving feedback is challenging. If you speak too frankly, you might hurt the others' feelings. If you keep quiet about the weaknesses, the person could not improve and so it might lead to a greater disadvantage in the future. So, how to give comment in a way that the other person could listen willingly?

Another better way, is to praise the strengths first, before telling about the improvement needs.

"Anna, your voice is loud and clear, hence your presentation is very good. The power point slides are very simple, the pictures were eye-catching, the audiences would listen attentively." Anna nodded her head with a smile.

"But, there is an improvement need. That is, the lacking of contents and organization of points, which would confuse people." Anna kept her smile and nodded her head seriously.

"Sean, overall excellent performance, wide variety of body languages, very interesting presentation, and you made everyone laughed." The audiences laughed again as I mentioned that. "But, you have to be more serious in certain part of the presentation. For example, do not laugh when you mention about sad matters." Sean too, even though playful, nodded his head in a serious manner.

I used the same method for the next few times, which was, positive comment followed by negative one. That way proved to be more effective as I found that the students were more willing to accept my comments. It had the same effect on the other colleagues.

However, it seemed to lose it's effectveness after a few trials.

Before I gave any comment after praises were given, "Jun, your idea this time is very creative, everybody were so interested, but..." Before I said anything, Jun said, "But there are some areas that I need to improve, right? I know I know."

It was the same with my colleagues. When praised them for a good job done, and then I said, "But...", they nodded their head unconsciously, replied perfunctorily, "Yes yes, there are areas to be improved."

The intention was to give my ideas or suggestions but people were unwilling to listen and replied "I know" carelessly when they heard the word "but". They must be familiar with positive-then-negative way. When they heard "but", they knew it must not a good comment, thus they built up a little bit of inner guard subconsciously.

if so, what is the best way?

Speaking differently using the same word will bring a different meaning. It is easy to feel the resistance because we had always linked the word "but" with negative comments. "But" is not just a negative word, but it can also be a positive word.

Hence, I used another way to comment during the next presentation.

The title of the presentation was "design a house which could help you to survive when tsunami came". A student named Keith designed a house with an extremely high wall but without a roof to defend against the tsunami. His design allowed the wall to be transparent, so that the residents could watch the fishes which swam outside the house. The other students could help but giggled at his idea.

'Keith, your design is so special, because the height of the wall could be changed according to the height of the tsunami. Roofless house may expose the house to tsunami, so I think that it couldn't really protect the residents. But, I can see from your design that, you are a person who could find happiness in the midst of adversity. I guess you wouldn't give up in any difficult circumstances. Keep it up!"

Keith was smiling all the way while he was listening to the comment, and he replied, "So, let me add in the roof then! The most important thing is to be optimistic regardless of what is happening to us. That's the reason I designed a transparent wall!"

If it were to happen few years back, I would say, "Keith, this design is creative, but it is not practical that the residents might be drowning."

It does show a great difference, doesn't it?

When you are conversing about a certain issue, you have to remember to explain and express [yourself] well and pay attention. (Pastor Joshua J)

'Positive-negative-positive' may be an easier way for people to accept your feedback if compare with 'positive-negative'. The secret? Use the word 'but' in a correct way because people tend to focus more on the sentence behind 'but'. Hence, why not using the 'praise-feedback-but-praise' method to give your feedback?

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