The four Fs of effective feedback

Posted on June 28, 2017 in: Articles

By Owen Phelps

Director, Yeshua Institute

We’re always delighted when we find business and human resource processes that implicitly support the Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus. And truth be told, they’re everywhere.

Some emerge in formal academic studies. Others rise to the top in hands-on leadership experiences.

Recall that our framework is S3 Jesus-like Leadership:

  • Servant – it’s not about me.
  • Steward – it’s not mine.
  • Shepherd – people are precious.

In this context, how do you handle the occasional need to provide corrective feedback?

David Grossman, a communications expert and CEO of The Grossman Group, says leaders often stumble when giving feedback.

One tendency is to be too general (“good job”) when specific feedback is much more effective (“here’s what I think you did extremely well on this project”).

Another tendency is to try to avoid awkward situations by stifling negative feedback -- until the leader’s emotions just boil over and he or she explodes with a torrent of criticism that feeds defensiveness or withdrawal.

Leaders can do better by adopting Grossman’s four keys to delivering effective feedback. And we’re pleased to report that his process, if done well, affirms our entire framework – but most especially the Shepherd proposition that “people are precious.”

He says the four keys can be summarized as in a 4 F framework:

1. Frame -- Set up the discussion and share why you’re sharing feedback -- including your intention (most often your intention is to be helpful, and it’s critical to say that). Avoid emotionally-charged language.

2. Feedback -- Discuss what went well, or what could be better and suggest an alternative: “This behavior had this consequence, and here’s what I’d prefer to see…”

3. Feelings – Here focus in on the leader actively receiving feedback. Check-in to see how effectively you are communicating.  Ask: “How do you feel about what I just said?” Allow the person to respond and to clarify or amplify, if needed. Watch their nonverbal body language for signs of discomfort, anger or pain. Modulate your communication with the goal of being understood – not just expressing yourself.

4. Follow-up -- Discuss next steps and how you can help and support.

“Finally,” Grossman advises, “pick a time that’s best for you to ensure you’re in the right frame of mind. Then, ask the other person whether they’re open to feedback. If so, proceed. If not, schedule a follow-up. Either way, offering up the choice gets you off on the right foot.”

Just remember, if your feedback is necessary for improved performance, don’t use discomfort – either yours or the other person’s -- as an excuse to procrastinate indefinitely.


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