It feels so good to hear those words, most of the time and for about 30-60 seconds. One reason this happens is because the feedback is non-specific. Since none of us are perfect, sad but true, no matter how well we do something, we’re always aware that something didn’t go exactly as we intended.
For me, it can happen when I lead a meeting and leave off an agenda item, or I’ve committed and missed yet another typo. If it is something really big, I know it happened and I really wish it hadn’t. I rarely need anyone to tell me it happened.
Like you, I want everything to go exactly as I intended. And when it doesn’t I can’t let “You rock!” in. It seems false, unearned, or inauthentic. It feels as if you weren’t really paying attention.
Instead, if the acknowledgement includes what worked and why – plus a suggestion on how to improve and why, I can see you were paying attention. I can see exactly what you saw, experienced or learned. I can see that you are on my side. I know you truly do want to help me do better in the future. I can get my arms around what I need to do next. That’s the kind of actionable feedback I can let in, feel good about and use.
Here’s an example. The other night I gave a short presentation at Toastmasters workshop on how to use gestures, movement and posture when you give a speech. I created a minute and half talk that listed the five main reasons gestures make a better speech.
I delivered it in a slouching posture, I didn’t move and I kept my hands at my sides. The audience was astonished. Then, I told them I knew they were astonished and began to deliver it again with highly exaggerated gestures and movements. I did two sentences and it was worse than the first time. I stopped and told them I wanted to start over and do it with gestures that felt natural. I re-delivered the whole speech with gestures that enhanced my points, movement that was purposeful, standing tall and confident.
The applause was my first feedback. The second form of feedback was from the speech evaluator, a staple of Toastmasters clubs. The Evaluator told me she loved the way I showed the audience exactly what works and what doesn’t when you use gestures or don’t in a speech. She said I spoke naturally. It was clear I was an expert. Then she recommended an improvement: I could add hand gestures to indicate the number of the point I was making, there were five, to help the audience follow and know where they were in the presentation.
This feedback was actionable. I knew immediately what worked, what to keep and what to change. The Evaluator was also gracious as she delivered the feedback. Her tone of voice was supportive and appreciative rather than critical and nit-picky. I felt empowered.
Effective mentors and coaches understand this and give actionable feedback. It builds their credibility with the people they are working with. And it allows them to make each interaction a supportive, learning and growing experience. Your mentee, client or employee is more likely to hear it as support then as criticism. When that happens, the opportunities for breakthroughs, life-changing insights and new possibilities are born.
Susan Bender Phelps runs Odyssey Mentoring & Leadership. She speaks and delivers corporate training on Mentorship, Leadership and Communication. Her book, Aspire Higher, tells true success stories of business and career mentoring and unpacks the essential elements of an effective mentoring partnership.