Giving Great Feedback – Creating & Serving the Meal


We’ve set the table already in Part 1. Now it’s time to create the meal. Here we address how to give feedback without hurting someone’s feelings (but really needing to tell them something that may be hard to hear).

What makes for a great meal? A complement of tastes – the best cooks seem to know how to combine these qualities. A little sour with a little sweet. Savory next to salty. It’s the contrasts that make the meal with temperatures, textures and tastes folding in together on our tongues.

But this doesn’t mean we can’t be straightforward. The secret is to have feedback be about the project, or the behavior, not the person as a human being. In other words, it is external to the recipient’s sense of self-worth.

While you may be saying, “Well, of course, it’s about the project or a behavior and not the person. I really like her!” The issue may be that the recipient may not know that. And while that is work the recipient will have to do, we as feedback-givers must know that these moments are measurements of performance and where a culture values those measurements, the feedback may seem threatening to the person’s sense of worth.

The real goal here is to create a culture of feedback-giving where it is consistently about the end result for the customer – that they get to experience the very best our organization has to offer. It’s not between us, but out there with the customer. So we want healthy debate. We want contrasts. We want edits and re-drafts. We want the best. Not for ourselves – but rather for what our companies represent and who they are to their customers.

So how to do this? How to create and serve a tasty meal? Here is one way:

I came across the COIN model of feedback and found it particularly easy and useful. Perhaps you know it. “COIN” stands for “Context” (or Connect); “Observation”; “Impact”; and “Next.” We use it here with a bit of a coaching twist.

Let’s break it down.

Context: This is making sure we’ve identified the event or specific work we are looking to talk about and naming it. After doing so, you might also ask: “What do you think is important about the project?” or “What do you think is important about these kinds of meetings?” Remember tone of voice is important here! You want the recipient’s input.

Observation: This is specifically naming the recipient’s behavior. For example, “I noticed you working on many drafts of this material.” Or “I noticed you left the room.” But you might first begin by asking, again: “What do you remember about how it went yesterday?”

Impact: This is specifically naming the behavior of others with whom the recipients was engaged. So it might look something like: “I noticed they smiled when you finished your presentation.” Or “I noticed that she did not talk to you.” You might also ask: “What did you notice about that interaction?”

Next: This is the action step. It is naming what is next as you see it. But before you suggest it, you might also ask the recipient. “What do you see as a next step here?”

The action step ensures that this isn’t just another “nice” conversation. The recipient has an opportunity to take ownership for the action with measurable outcomes on which to report back to you.

Creating and serving a great meal is about creating real discourse over the meal. We discuss the behavior as it exists outside of the person. We develop key action steps. Ultimately, we use feedback to be sure we are on the same page of what the company is ultimately about.


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