The art of feedback – why we should serve more than a “praise” sandwich

A couple of days ago, my good friend and classmate Kendalle Harrell sent me a link  to the latest research article on Performance Feedback… I know what you’re thinking…quite a sexy topic for an Organizational Psychology grad student.

Yes, gosh darnit, it is! We’ve all been given feedback – welcome or unwelcome, formal or informal, yearly or monthly.

Performance feedback is an art. So let’s draw some connections to the art of Improvisation, shall we?

Peter Sims gets us thinking about how, and compares this art to the artsiest folk of all, Pixar animators.

  1. Make it personal – no cookie cutter feedback here. Not everyone likes a praise sandwich, in fact, some people will throw away what’s inside and just focus on the praise, or visa-versa. Strong performance feedback has…
  2. A narrative – a journey, a co-created one at that… between the feedback giver and receiver. Decide on a vision that you can co-create. To help you write this narrative focus on…
  3. Agreement – what can the feedback receiver agree to (and come up with themselves) to improve? Utilize the power of give and take (Thanks, Adam Grant!).
  4. Be specific – focus on specific behaviors, action items, and examples.

Pixar utilizes “plussing” as a developmental tool (you may call this “Yes, And…as you wish).

“The point, he said, is to “build and improve on ideas without using judgmental language.

Here’s an example he offers in his book. An animator working on “Toy Story 3” shares her rough sketches and ideas with the director. “Instead of criticizing the sketch or saying ‘no,’ the director will build on the starting point by saying something like, ‘I like Woody’s eyes, and what if his eyes rolled left?”

Using words like “and” or “what if,” rather than “but” is a way to offer suggestions and allow for the creative juices to flow without fear, Mr. Sims said.”

Performance feedback is a muscle that can be developed with practice.  I’d argue that many of us inherently know this already, but don’t always put it into practice. If we want to improve, we can think about it as we would our own performance feedback. Focus on the specific behaviors we can improve on tomorrow, and who can help keep us accountable as we learn and grow?

TOOL: Delight and engage your audience with reincorporation

Improvisation as a communication tool can be broken down into two steps:

Listen, then react.

Repeat.

Without being able to plan ahead in the conversation or the scene, Improvisers are skilled at being present and in the moment, fine-tuning their listening skills to yield honest reactions that keep moving the story and conversation forward.

Skilled Improvisers are also excellent at re-incorporation, or “the call-back” as it’s coined in the comedy world.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Callback_(comedy)

Reincorporating a piece of information, a line of dialogue or a small moment from earlier in the scene or story usually results in a big laugh. Reincorporation is a favorite of Improv audiences because they are amazed we remembered such details, and what is familiar usually get a laugh.

Without superb listening and awareness skills, reincorporation wouldn’t be possible.

But, reincorporation can delight more than just Improv audiences. 

Its applications stretch from presentation skills to interviews, praise, and building connections with everyday conversations.

Reincorporation really just means we’ve been listening, and it always feels nice to know you’ve been listened to. It shows that you care, and you are paying attention – imagine the delight and surprise when a small piece of information is reincorporated in an improvised story, perhaps an hour after it was first introduced. Reincorporating an idea, or an employee concern, or praise of a job well done can have the same effect.

Specificity plays a role here too. The more detailed the reincorporation, the bigger the reaction and delight you are creating.

As a presentation tool, reincorporation helps with retention, learning, and information summary. Repeating key points or key themes  in a presentation is a strategic tool.

Listen, then react… with an emphasis on the listening.