As young school children, we are taught to ask the teacher for support and receive feedback to help us learn. That feedback was often in the form of a grade that we interpreted as either good or bad. As adults, giving feedback to one another can evoke a strong defensive reaction.
We know this defensive response all-too-well. Since we co-facilitate the Power of TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic)® and 3 Vital Questions® workshops together, after each workshop we debrief, which requires giving feedback to one another.
When one of us says to the other, “May I give you some feedback?” our history is to recoil into a defensive posture. Gradually we have learned to practice how to share feedback. We have learned that this is an important part of the Persecutor-to-Challenger role shift.
When we take on the Persecutor role, whether we realize it or not, our intent is to “put down and be right.” Put simply, the Persecutor role in the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) wants to control a situation or person and look good themselves. The other person senses the threat and automatically assumes the worst, which often evokes a defensive reaction.
Learning to give feedback that is useful is a powerful part of the Challenger role in TED*. Challengers absolutely give feedback, and (here’s the important part) they do so without blame or judgment. Unlike the Persecutor, whose feedback is steeped in looking good and being right, the Challenger is committed to learning and growth.
While you cannot guarantee that your feedback will be received as intended, as a Challenger you want to give feedback that has the highest probability of being useful to others. The question, “Are you open to feedback?” does not always have to trigger the assumption that something is wrong. Feedback is also about what went well. Developing finely tuned observation skills will help you see what worked, as well as areas for improvement.
One way to do this is to always start with praise and appreciation. Genuine praise signals to the nervous system of the one you are giving feedback that they are safe, which allows their defense mechanism to relax. It is very important to select what you truly appreciate about the person or situation. It must be sincere—and the more specific the better.
Instead of: “You did a good job,” complete the sentence by describing very specifically how and when they did a good job. An example might be, “You did a good job on the Zoom call today when you included everyone in the conversation.” If appreciative feedback is specific, it increases the probability that the other person will receive it as genuine rather than sandwiched between points for improvement.
Challengers have learned to focus on the entire situation and person. They provide “balanced-score card” assessments, acknowledging the good stuff and offering suggestions and observations for improvement, learning, and growth.
Here are a few more suggestions combining the Challenger role, which provides observations, and the Coach role that invites inquiry:
- Ask for self-evaluation first. Be sure to ask what they feel they did well.
- After ample time is given to what went well, ask what they might do differently next time. This approach empowers the other person and encourages self-reflection and taking responsibility for their actions.
- Ask permission to add additional feedback if needed. “There’s something else I noticed that might be useful to you” is thoughtful and constructive Challenger language.
People who embrace the Challenger role and have learned to give feedback without blame or judgment, combined with good Coach questions, are some of the most valued and respected people in families and organizations. Learn the art of constructive feedback and you may be surprised how many people seek your perspective.