Let’s talk about feedback

Imagine a world where the members of a famous football club or an iconic film star had no one to advise them on how there were doing whether on a football pitch or in front of the camera. We would never witness some of the most memorable moments in sport’s and film’s history. These stars have one thing in common: throughout their careers, someone has offered them feedback, which they have taken on board and learned from.

The same applies to you. Whatever career you pursue, you will be consistently offered feedback that you will need to reflect on and put into practice. Easier said than done as sometimes things get personal and emotional – this is where we can help you ask for, receive and use feedback to your advantage.

In this article, we will define what feedback is and why it is important. We will have a look at different types of feedback that you can come across, both at university and at work and will offer you some tips for how to respond to it. Finally, have a look at the recommended links which will help you deepen your knowledge in the Read This, Watch This, Try This, and Reflect sections.

A brief definition of feedback

We define feedback as helpful information offered by an individual (your tutor, manager, parent, coach, etc.) about something you have done or said or written. It could be corrective information or encouragement, an alternative strategy to tackle a problem or a clarification of ideas (Hattie and Timperley, 2007).

So, feedback occurs because of your actions or performance and will include information about what someone expected of you and how you performed against these expectations.

You can then use this information to learn, improve and make better-informed decisions. You will know what you do well and where you need to put extra work. Everyone can benefit from considerate and helpful feedback, not just Premier League footballers or Hollywood stars!

What’s in it for me?

Without feedback, you might find yourself feeling at sea, unsure of what and how to improve. It would be like receiving back a graded essay without a single comment – not very helpful for any future assignments. So, here are a few reasons why it is good to welcome (even the difficult) feedback into your life:

1. It’s out there, it’s free (most of the time) and you decide what to do with it – people like giving others’ feedback, and it is up to you to reflect on what you have just heard or read. Pick what’s useful and reflect on what you find less helpful. Think about how you can use it to your advantage and run with it. Feedback will help you increase your self-awareness and see what impact your behaviour and actions have on others.

2. It will help you plan your life/study/career journey – through well-provided feedback you can figure out where you are going and what your goals are, ‘how you are going’ and ‘where to go next’ (Hattie and Timperley, 2007).

3. It will help you become a better communicator – in any interaction where you receive feedback, you will need to listen actively to understand the meaning behind the words. It is not always easy, but the more you do it the better you get at it – it’s like learning to ride a bike – once you get over the initial wobbles, the sky is your limit. But… remember that you can always get better!

4. It is part of your lifelong learning – yes, even when you have left your ‘formal education’, it is not the end of your lifelong learning. There may be no more official tests and exams, but to improve and grow in your future roles you will be required to stay motivated and keep developing your skills. It will help you feel actively involved in everything you do.

Not all feedback is the same

Feedback can come in many guises. Here are examples of what you may come across:

• One-to-one feedback with a tutor or manager
• Feedback from your peers and colleagues
• Informal impromptu feedback on for example post-it notes
• You may be asked to write a self-evaluation or reflection on progress in a graded assessment at university or an appraisal form at work
• Written comments on a piece of work
• Feedback on a group’s performance where you need to think about what applies to you
• Online surveys

Remember: Any feedback, whether you give or receive it, should be clear, specific, timely and objective, never personal.

What to do with it?

Well, it is up to you how you ask for feedback, and what you take on board. We have, however, a few helpful suggestions worth trying:

  • Don’t take it personally – well-meant feedback is objective and specifically focussed on a particular area of your performance and behaviour. Reflect on what you can take away from it so you perform better next time. Build on the positive comments and address the critical ones.
  • Practise asking for feedback – try asking specific questions, like ‘What is the one thing I could do better in this presentation?’ or ‘How could I improve my essay structure?’
  • Be prepared to listen and learn – feedback is not about judging, but helping you grow and develop so listen carefully to the meaning behind the words. Reflect on the comments and the main points from the feedback and put them to use by writing or agreeing on an action plan.
  • Know your triggers – if you take feedback comments personally then it may be helpful to self-assess yourself first (be honest!) against, for example, your tutor’s marking criteria and compare your score with that awarded by your tutor. See where you differ. Why is that? How would you comment on this essay if you were your tutor?

Last but not least

If you are interested in finding out more about feedback, click on the links to the resources below:

Read this:

Feedback at work
Tips for giving and receiving instant feedback
Feedback – a guide for students in higher education

Watch this:
3 rules to spark learning
How to use others’ feedback to learn and grow

Try this:
Assess yourself
More personal assessment

Reflect: now that you have read this article, take a few minutes and jot down answers to the questions below. This will help you remember the most insightful points and put together an action plan that works for you:

What inspired you?
• As a result, what do you want to do more of?
• And what do you want to do less of?
• What will you do next to achieve these goals?

Bibliography:

Hattie, J. and Timperley, H. (2007). The Power of Feedback. [pdf] Review of Educational Research, pp.81-112. Available at: http://www.columbia.edu/~mvp19/ETF/Feedback.pdf [Accessed 11 Oct. 2018].

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