Coaches’ Corner: Feedback

Coaches’ Corner: Feedback

Feedback should not be viewed as a scary thing. It’s a valuable tool to enhance performance. Feedback includes both a description of the performance behavior and an evaluative statement about the quality of the behavior. For instance, saying that someone did a “great job” only highlights the evaluative piece of feedback. Alternatively, saying that someone did a “great job running the toilet training procedure” provides both the evaluative and the descriptive components of feedback. Feedback is ideally bidirectional so that we all receive the benefits of these descriptive, evaluative components to better improve our job performance. So, why are people often terrified of feedback and how do we break the archaic idea that feedback is bad? Examples of feedback in popular culture don’t help matters. They often include a “boss” who belittles and yells at their employees. Think about Mr. Burns in The Simpsons, Gregory House in House, or even Don Draper from Mad Men. These are only a few examples, but the list is long folks. If I had to encounter Mr. Burns on a daily basis, I too would be terrified to receive feedback.

Dr. Diana Hulse from Fairfield University has a possible solution to destigmatize the idea that feedback is something to fear. She has conducted research and published papers on preplanning for clinical supervision. Preplanning is the concept of creating the optimal supervisory environment for an effective feedback process to occur. Preplanning sessions are often informal and help to normalize feedback. The focus is on how to get our supervisees to better accept and apply feedback rather than to avoid feedback. The preplanning sessions also provide a means to learn more about your supervisee and for them to learn about you as well. It may sound simplistic but taking the time to ask your supervisee “How do you like to receive feedback?” is a major preplanning action to set your team up for success. You can also have discussions about everyone’s communication preferences and professional values.

Having discussions about the value of feedback is important in the creation of the optimal supervisory environment. Asking your team “what do you find valuable about feedback?” is a great place to start. The answers they provide can then enhance your feedback delivery as a supervisor. It is important to note that feedback delivery should be tailored to the supervisee. As you explore these preplanning strategies within your teams, you will notice that every supervisee will have slightly different feedback values and overall preferences related to feedback and communication. Tailoring your feedback delivery is vital not only to increase the performance of your supervisees and teams overall, but also to ensure that you do not diminish the rapport you’re diligently working to build through these preplanning activities. For instance, asking about the preferences of your supervisee and then continuing to communicate and deliver feedback in your preferred style may come off as insincere. Being open about concerns many people have regarding feedback is another important topic to discuss with your supervisees. “What experience do you have receiving feedback?” or “Tell me about how you’ve received feedback in the past” are possible ways to start the conversation.

Modeling openness to feedback is perhaps the most valuable tool to have in your feedback toolbox. Please, please, please solicit feedback from your supervisees. Not only does soliciting feedback provide you the chance to improve your performance, but it also allows you to model appropriate ways to accept and apply feedback. The bidirectional nature of feedback is critical in creating that seemingly elusive optimal supervisory environment. You may start the discussion by asking “What do you like most about my supervision style?” or “What could I do differently in our supervisory relationship?” or “How can I better help you grow as a clinician?”

I encourage you to explore having meaningful discussions about feedback with your teams. Be real with your supervisees and create the dialogue now so that you don’t find yourself on a team with a lack of rapport between its members, lousy communication, and ineffective feedback down the road. Unlike Mr. Burns, your role as a supervisor is not to bark orders but instead to craft a safe, open environment for each member of your team to have honest discussions and to grow as professionals.

Written By: CCABA Director of Professional Development and Training, Derick Hamilton