According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term ‘feedback’ is used to describe information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.

Why do some people fear feedback so much, is it a throwback from our school days, parenting or perhaps sibling rivalry? Some of us find it incredibly painful and can see no positives others only see the positives and ignore the development areas.

It is said there are two types of people those who have a glass half full attitude and those who are glass half empty? Is there anything an employer, teacher or parent can do to change how feedback is received and acted on?

1. Choose your words carefully

Language is important, choosing your words carefully can be powerful. NLP Trainer Caroline Tyrwhitt in her recent 4myschools “blog 5 Tips to manage behaviour” encourages supply staff to “Choose their words thoughtfully” when giving feedback.

“The word ‘don’t’ can create conflict. Instead, choose encouraging language and choose to praise students rather than complain. Praise builds positive regard for the students and helps create a constructive relationship in the short time span available to us as supply teachers. Using specific praise, just like using a student’s name, is particularly powerful as it acknowledges precisely what it is they have done well, it’s personal and it shows you have been paying close attention. 

The word ‘but’ can also cause problems. For example, in the comment, “Thank you for sharing an answer, but don’t call out next time” the ‘but’ undermines the courteous relationship created in the first part of the sentence. If you replace the word ‘but’ with ‘and’, it promotes harmony while giving further feedback, e.g., “Thank you for sharing an answer, and please put your hand up next time.” The word ‘but’ or ‘however’ always indicates contradiction so use it only after bad news to give good news, for example “You had a silly start to the lesson, but I’m really pleased with how you turned it around.” 

Keep your language non-judgmental, no matter what you’re feeling. Choosing our words carefully and focussing on the positive takes us full circle helping us to manage our own state. Rather than focussing on blame and problems, we see solutions maintaining an optimistic outlook even when challenged. When we take responsibility for our thinking, our language and our behaviour, we empower ourselves.”

2. Normalise feedback

In some organisations, if you ask how often feedback occurs, staff will typically mention a survey, annual appraisal, or team meeting. Feedback is around us all the time. Every time we speak to a person, employee, customer, candidate or student we communicate feedback, it’s impossible not to give and importantly it’s how it is received that makes the difference.

Normalising feedback is the key, if the student or team member feels safe, listened to and knows what they are hearing will benefit them they will usually act and welcome what you have to say. If feedback becomes part of your usual routine, there are no surprises or shocks. Be consistent and kind with your words to gain the greatest benefit for you and the receiver.

3. Ask for feedback on your own performance first

Asking for feedback can motivate students and employees, creating the first step in establishing a safe environment, we all like to feel valued and appreciate being asked to provide feedback that can help formulate decisions, improve performance and relationships. If a student or employee feels they can give feedback they are more likely to receive constructive feedback later.

4. Keep your body language positive

Beware the resting bitch face! I am guilty of that and work on relaxing this daily, some will say not successfully enough! It is so easy to unintentionally appear cross or annoyed when in fact you are just confused or concerned.  Lots of us have experienced anxiety and real cause for concern over the last year which can affect our body language.

Caroline Tyrwhitts blog also contained some very useful tips on how to achieve positive body language.

Greet everyone with a smile, even if it is plastic to start with, as our brain has mirror neurons which means that people will automatically smile back. Smiling helps trigger our happy chemicals so the plastic smile will eventually become real, and the energy of others will start to lift as we all begin to smile. 

Should you start to feel stressed, notice your body language. Under stress our body language may communicate angry or confused even though we may be saying something calming. In this situation, the person  will pick up on our body language rather than our words.  

Open palms are seen as more placatory, whereas downward facing hands are more decisive. Pointing your finger is the language of blame and therefore introduces conflict into the situation and waving your arms communicates confusion and indecision. 

To feel confident, stand with your feet apart, your head up and shoulders back, the power pose, and drop the hands from the hips as that could be read as confrontational unless you mix it up with a smile.

4myschools have given and asked for feedback from the beginning in 2008, On the whole feedback has been great and when we have received constructive feedback from candidates or schools, we have always acted on it. We continue with this theme internally with weekly 1-1 sessions within our teams sharing feedback and termly appraisals. Even through lockdown, we sought feedback from or schools and candidates as we knew in times of crisis it was just as important to know what we were doing well and what we could do better. Our team regularly give 360 feedback which can be scary for new team members but after a while, everyone appreciates it.

Feedback is a gift and given constructively can be a powerful tool for change.