You are currently viewing Actionable Feedback – The Only Kind You Want to Give or Get

Actionable Feedback – The Only Kind You Want to Give or Get

You Rock!“Great job!”   “Atta girl!”   “Way to go!”  “YES!”

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.


This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Neda Bayat

    This is the truest form of skills focused coaching. We call it ‘observational feedback’ as part of the Coaching Skills loop in our Professional Sports Coaching for Business solution.
    Why Sports when we’re talking about Business? Well, because in Sports Actionable Feedback is the only acceptable form of feedback from a mentor or a coach. But in Business there’s a tendency to shy away from it and give non-specific feedback or just be vague. Top Performing Coaching Organizations have a Skills focused coaching process in place & that lends itself naturally to providing what you refer to as ‘actionable feedback.’ One of my favorite topics, thanks for posting.

    1. Susan Bender Phelps

      Neda, I am so pleased you liked the article. I like the term “observational feedback,” because it dovetails directly into one of the most important mentoring/coaching skills I talk about in my workshops – Being a Keen Observer. To be an effective coach or mentor, even supervisor, you want to become a master of being able to identify patterns of behavior, results and the lack thereof. By honing these observational skills you make it possible to get to the heart of the matter quickly. This is what enable you to give actionable feedback that makes a difference. Thanks for enriching the conversation.

  2. Bob Aiese

    Great essay. I would like to hear some examples of actionable feedback.

    1. Susan Bender Phelps

      Bob, Thank you – and what a great question. Let’s say we were working together on a project. You present me with a graphic design. I say: “It is beautiful! I really like the colors you chose. I think it communicates the feeling I was looking for. I can already envision it on my website and business cards. The one thing I think will improve it, is if we change the typestyle for the slogan copy to make it more readable and we might want to try going up a point size for the same reason. I can tell you listened and understand what I am trying to accomplish.

      Now, I could have opened with the type-face change, but you wouldn’t have a clear idea of what I liked and how much I appreciated the work you did. You would be left with,

      It simply wasn’t good enough.

      With actionable feedback you know what to keep and what to change.

  3. Glendora Claybrooks

    Thanks for making actionable feedback a process of interaction that can be seen felt and heard and for me that is effective communication. We should all consciously practice at this learned skill, as we are not all born with it…

    You have shown that this deliberate vocal practice leads to ultimate satisfaction and increased improvement in how we should engage in order to effectively communicate in a meaningful and useful manner. Feedback indeed allows us to acknowledge the good, toss the extra, and cherish the results.

    Thanks for all you do in leading us into communal victory. You do indeed inspire me to reach for the mighty fifth pinnacle of Maslow’s hierarchy. I thank you from the bottom of my apex centered in that most upper left torso from which cometh compassion, passion, and love.

    1. Susan Bender Phelps

      Thank YOU, Glendora. I am honored by your generous acknowledgment.

  4. Susan Bender Phelps

    Two great mentoring sites are – I am a guest blogger there from time to time. They publish wonderful content and you can sign up to be a mentor or get a mentor – and – Also an opportunity to get great information and the sign up to be or get a mentor.

Comments are closed.