One of the tasks during the Constructive Feedback Course was to research what such feedback entails and as a group come up with a few guidelines. The IUG students have offered some really practical tips, which hopefully they will put to use when working with Glasgow-based students and also later in their work or during their studies. Here is a compilation of the most important points.
Include a mix of praise and an indication of what needs to be improved
When giving feedback try to emphasise the strengths of the work and indicate areas for improvement, in other words ‘speak about the beauty of roses and then wonder about the thorns’. Begin by thanking for the effort and focus on the positives first as this ‘will make the recipient more confident and motivated to learn and will help them to develop their strengths’. Then move on to discuss the weaknesses but try to avoid negativity and describe them with suitable words. Definitely guide the recipient in what action they should take by describing specific behaviour and providing examples. This way of giving feedback is often referred to as a feedback sandwich method or ‘positive-improvement-positive’.
By using this method – starting with positive points – you give the recipient a nice impression that you are not attacking them but trying to help them. This will help them get ready to accept any criticisms.
Specific and clear
It is very important to be specific and clear. Instead of making general or vague judgments about the whole work or its component parts, it’s more advisable to highlight specific ways to improve the work. This means dealing with particular incidents, sticking to facts and specific performance aspects. This makes feedback less ambiguous but more goal-oriented. Breaking your feedback down into key points and illustrating them with specific examples can help may further improve its quality, specificity and actionability – this makes it become an opportunity for learning and developing skills.
Give guidance as to what actions can be taken
Giving “actionable” feedback is a powerful and important function of being a leader. It’s a critical component of development, thus, to be most useful, feedback should concern behavior that can be changed by the receiver. Feedback concerning matters outside the control of the receiver is less useful and often causes resentment.
For the feedback to be actionable you need to provide recommendations of how to improve the work. It is important that they are specific and a clear rationale is given why a particular recommendation is justified. Another crucial thing is to be polite and courteous when giving suggestions.
Focus on behaviour and not the person
While giving feedback, focus on the behaviour or the situation and not the person. So try to recognize intent amidst error and offer alternatives, try to take in consideration the intention of the writer and praise it and only then discuss how the writing could be revised to achieve this intention. One way of phrasing the critique is to focus on the writing itself and the ideas by saying ‘…however, I thought some of the points could be delivered in a more concise manner’ instead of saying bluntly ‘you’re waffling here’.
Mind your language
This has already been mentioned but it is vital that you use objective and polite language when critiquing somebody’s ideas. It is true that emotions are sometimes uncontrollable but this is not an excuse to give negative- and rude-sounding feedback. If for some reason, more directness is needed, help the recipient understand the rationale for doing so. It is a good idea to phrase the feedback in such a way that it invites the recipient to start a conversation, a dialogue with the feedback provider.
Mind the time
Last but not least the feedback should be timely, frequent and help the recipient develop skills in self-assessment so that they can recognise their strengths and weaknesses and identify ways in which the latter can be worked on.
Based on this I have created a list of criteria to use when evaluating the effectiveness of the feedback (as part of self-evaluation or peer review):
- Clarity of explanation – I understood what was good and/or what needed to be improved
- Specificity – it referred to specific parts of my writing and gave specific recommendations
- Tone (polite, positive) – the feedback was given in such way that I felt positive about it
- Feed forward – it provided suggestions how the writing could be improved
- Developmental – it made me think about improvements instead of telling me what to do
And here is a short video summary for the IUG students.