The art of providing feedback

Ingrid Røynesdal


Back your compliments with specific examples and a reason. Never just say ‘nice’ or ‘well done’. It won’t do.

Thursday 12th of June 2008 I attended one of those half-day sessions aiming to inspire you, the Johan Trone conference, an annual happening at the Norwegian School of Management. For once I walked out of the conference room truly inspired, much thanks to Ingrid Røynesdal, a piano player and former athlete.

Cut the crap. Be honest and specific.

Røynesdal had been asked to tell roughly 150 decision makers from public and private sector on how to make particularly talented people pour their energy and drive into your company’s daily matters. She talked about feedback. She is rooted in classical music, tennis and social science. The two first elements of her identity, she explained to the crowd, had turned her into becoming someone highly addictive to thorough feedback. She was utterly frustrated about how incredibly much hopeless feedback that people present to each other.

She suggested three key steps forward in order to improve:

1. Provide compliments with a reason

Everyone searches for confirmation on their specific delivery. All of us want to know (again and again) that other people really think that we are talented. Therefore, when someone has done you a favour, handed in a piece of work you asked for, don’t just say ‘thanks, that’s wonderful’. Continue! Explain what you find wonderful. Explain what you appreciate about the work. Then the other person will turn back to work and continue developing just those things you spelled out that you appreciated. What exactly did you like? Why did you like it? Why did it meet your standards? Why is this so important? Røynesdal underlined the need for you to convince the one who has delivered that you are actually serious about your compliment, that it’s not just a standard phrase you throw in this person’s face.

2. Spell out your critical comments

The next step is to move on to the more critical aspects of a the delivery. This equals you paying respect to the other. Everyone knows that a final delivery will have room for improvement. Anyone can pick on details. Therefore, don’t pretend you don’t see those details. Share your critical point of views. The more specific you get, the better. It will make the other person trust you even more. Being critical towards another person, when trust has been created, is the most valuable action you can demonstrate. It’s and action of trust.

Never be vague in your criticism. Also avoid phrasing yourself in indirect terms, beating around the bush. Worst of all is silence.

3. Provide challenges and people will prosper

Challenges may make people tick. People want to learn, develop, create and become part of something bigger. Enable people to craft something on their own and they’ll come back to you time after time, asking for new tasks. That counts particularly for talented people, according to Røynesdal. However, I believe this works well for anyone going to work not only to get the pay check.

Reading suggestions

Check out coach and Harvard Business Online blogger Marshall Goldsmith’s suggestions on how to get feedback right.

The art of providing feedback

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