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Give Feedback Like a “Super Coach”

If you lead a team, there’s a high likelihood that your technical knowledge and skills helped you land your role. But, unfortunately, being a technical expert doesn’t always translate into being an effective leader. Think of those you’ve worked for to this point in your career. If you’re like most people, you’ve probably worked for some excellent leaders and for some who just didn’t know how to get the most from their team members.

What do the best leaders do better than their lesseffective peers? One thing they do especially well is provide the positive and developmental feedback their team members need to be successful. Those who do it really well—the “super coaches”—are the ones who have mastered a toolbox of coaching skills and know how and when to use them.

In this article, and the one that follows in the next issue, we will discuss the importance of feedback and provide helpful tips and pointers for delivering feedback like a super coach.

Why Feedback Matters

Feedback answers the question, “How am I doing?” It tells the person you are coaching whether they’re moving toward achieving their goals. People typically enjoy receiving positive feedback, as it meets the common personal need of feeling valued and appreciated.

Meeting others’ personal needs is one of the keys to building good working relationships. More than that, when someone does well and receives positive feedback, it helps that person know what behavior to repeat in the future. Developmental feedback—or feedback for improvement—is just as critical. It lets people know what they can do to change their behavior or performance and helps them learn how to grow professionally.

Effective feedback is more than saying, “Thanks” or “Nice job.” While people appreciate being noticed for their hard work, vaguely worded positive feedback has little impact. The same applies when giving developmental feedback. To have real value and lasting effect, feedback needs to be specific, timely and balanced. Keep those points in mind when you're asking for feedback on how you're doing, too.

Feedback Quick Tips

When providing feedback, specify what was said or done and why it was or was not effective.

  • Specific positive feedback is sincere. Not only does it energize and encourage people, but it alsoclarifies what actions to repeat and when, as well as why it's important to do so.
  • Specific developmental feedback is hard to contest. When you compare specific current performance to goals, people can see what adjustments they need to make to be successful.

Feedback also needs to be timely.

  • Provide feedback when the details of performance are fresh in everyone's mind. You'll both be able to discuss the situation effectively by relying on the facts.
  • Your timely comments will be most relevant to the work the person or group is currently doing. They will be able to either repeat effective actions for continued success, or make adjustments before facing a similar situation.

When offering developmental feedback, suggest alternative actions the person can take.

  • By providing alternatives, you help the person know what to do with your feedback. This helps him or her develop a plan to improve performance.
  • By explaining why the alternatives should lead to enhanced performance, you'll encourage the person to follow through on your suggestions.

Provide a balance of positive and developmental feedback.

  • If possible, try to provide more positive reinforcement than suggestions for improvement.
  • Your positive feedback will be more worthwhile and sincere if you also take opportunities to provide developmental feedback, if deserved.

How to Give Positive Feedback

Simply put, positive feedback entails telling people what they did well and why it was effective. Your goal when providing positive feedback is to encourage people to repeat effective performance.

To give positive feedback that will be effective, remember the term, STAR, which reminds you to describe:

  • The Situation/Task (ST) the person or group handled, such as a problem, business opportunity, special challenge, or routine task.
  • The Action (A) the person or group took, what they actually said or did that was effective.
  • The positive Result (R) or what changed for the better and how it is beneficial.


Make sure your comments are:

  • Specific—Feedback must reflect what was accomplished in terms that are precise and can be measured. For example:
    • "You submitted the proposal a day ahead of your due date."
    • "As of last Friday, your sales were 101 percent of your target for the quarter."
    • "Last week's printout shows you averaged 55 calls a day."
  • Timely—Praise the person's action (and any positive results) as soon as possible after it happens. The details will be fresh in your mind and your comments will be most relevant to the work the person is currently doing. Also, timely feedback seems the most sincere; you were so impressed that you had to tell the person right away.
  • Balanced—Over time, you should balance your positive feedback with developmental feedback. If all your feedback is positive, then you'll miss opportunities to help people strive for higher goals. Also, people might question your sincerity if your feedback is nothing more than an endless stream of positive comments.
  • About the performance or behavior—Keep the focus there andnot on the person or the person's motives.

For example, don't say: “You did a great job in getting that hot order out yesterday.” This feedback isn't specific; the person receiving it won't know what actions to repeat.

Instead, say: “You showed a lot of initiative when you discovered a problem with the shipping procedure in the order processing system(Situation/Task). Instead of waiting for the supervisor to take care of it, you contacted MIS and showed them the problem(Action). The system was fixed and the materials were shipped on time(Result).

A Critical Skill

Delivering positive feedback is one of the critical skills a “super coach” must have in order to help people perform at a high level and drive the team to better results. In the next issue, we will explore what’s needed to provide developmental feedback.

How to Receive Feedback

Listen with full attention to the feedback people provide you.

  • Listening carefully to feedback shows you trust and value other people's ideas and suggestions.
  • Listen to learn rather than to defend.
  • Be attentive and silent to allow the other person to speak and to ensure you hear all the information.

When receiving feedback, ask for specific details and suggestions.

  • Before offering your reaction, seek specifics about situations, your behaviors and actions, the results and alternatives regarding what you said or did, as well as why it was or wasn't effective.
  • Ask for suggestions on how to improve and for an explanation as to why the alternatives would be more effective.
  • Be sure to ask questions to clarify any feedback you don't understand.
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