What Feedback Do You Want?

The party was on! Time to appreciate our ministry volunteers. We had invited 1200 volunteers and 800 came to this special night of dinner and fun. The team had really outdone themselves and everything was amazing. My job >> writing and directing the program. Every person played their part perfectly. We bragged on our volunteers and had fun doing it. I looked around the room and people were laughing and engaged. I went home energized and satisfied.

Then, Monday morning came. The debrief meeting. You’ve all been there, right? What went well? What didn’t? What to do differently next time? All seemed like benign questions, but it was not the kind of feedback I wanted at that moment and it took the wind out of my sails.

If only I had known then what I know now. There are different kinds of feedback. I wanted appreciation feedback, but the meeting was designed for evaluation feedback. It was a feedback catastrophe. Ever had one of those? Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, authors of “Thanks for the Feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well” describe the three kinds of feedback:

Appreciation is giving thanks and encouraging you to keep doing what you are doing. For it to be effective, it needs to be specific and authentic. It empowers people to continue moving forward in the track they are on and highlights the behavior(s) that need(s) to continue to make an impact.

Coaching is revealing better ways to do something to help you grow. Coaching can be related to improving your skills, exploring alternative options for solving the problems, or deepening perspectives. Examples of this are asking questions to explore options or expand insights or employing intuitive listening that helps people on the journey to their own solutions.

Evaluation is telling you where you stand compared to a standard or compared to others. Evaluation aligns expectations and clarifies consequences. Examples of this are a test in school, a multi-rater assessment at work, or other objective criteria to evaluate your performance.

I came to the meeting expecting some specific and authentic affirmation. Not only of my work, but the team that had put so much heart and soul into the event. However, the meeting was designed to evaluate the event to improve performance next time. It was a mis-match of expectations. 

So, what do you do when you are looking for one kind of feedback and get another?

  1. Accept the feedback for what it is, not what you sense you need. It’s data and you can choose what you want to act on as you move forward. It has a purpose, even if it wasn’t your planned purpose. 
  2. Ask for what you need. If you know the kind of feedback you are looking for then be specific and ask some questions to solicit the feedback you need.
  3. All feedback can be insightful. When it’s not what you are looking for, hang on to your growth mindset and grab the nugget from it rather than dismissing or discounting it. 

Practice Feedback Today

We often hear about how to give feedback, but what about receiving feedback? Think of something about which you would like to hear some feedback. Decide which kind of feedback you are looking for and from whom. Craft a question to ask specifically for the kind of feedback you would like to hear. Ask your feedback question. Reflect on what worked in your practice. Let me know how it goes! 


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Annie Perdue Olson

Annie is founder of Leading Better Together, guiding leaders through the relationship and people challenges that sidetrack ministry. With 20+ years of experience in nonprofit management and pastoral ministry she equips people and teams to work better together. She holds a Master of Arts in Human Resources and Change Leadership from St. Thomas University and received her coaching certification from the Center for Coaching Excellence.

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