One of the areas I have covered over the last 30 years as a trainer is that of giving feedback to people. Most people find it easy to give the good stuff, but struggle with give negative or developmental feedback. This is common and I think it’s because people regard it as a personal attack on the recipient; and it can be if it’s done incorrectly.

To begin with, let’s just agree on the purpose of feedback. I believe it is information offered to someone which aims to “reinforce or change existing behaviour in order to  improve performance”.

As I said above, I find that most people find giving positive feedback easier to do, because it’s nice to give isn’t it? People will like us when we give them good news. But what if we have to give bad news; when the person hasn’t done well?

That’s when we need a structure to follow. I have a couple that I use and share with delegates. One of them is the tried and trusted Logical Levels model made famous by Robert Dilts.

The model can be used as a guide for presenting your feedback. You may choose to focus on:

  • Environment – where, when and with whom the person did what they did That is, the person may have chosen an inappropriate (or great) location, time or group of people.
  • Behaviour. What specifically did they do or not do?
  • Capabilities. You may wish to comment on their approach (strategy) or maybe a capability/skill they demonstrated or failed to demonstrate.
  • Beliefs/Values. Now, unless the person actually stated their beliefs and values, it is difficult to provide feedback at the Beliefs/Values level. You can however ask questions about their beliefs and values that might have been at play and then provide feedback on this information.
  • Identity. At this level, you are best advised to avoid any negative feedback, e.g. You are incompetent/stupid/hopeless etc. rather comment on the specific behaviours that led you to this conclusion.

I am not going to refer to the level of purpose in this article as it has special relevance. Here’s my thinking on using the model. The first thing to do, always, is to get clear on the context and purpose of your feedback. Then work out what it is you want to say to the person in question and decide which level it is aimed at.

I believe that if you keep your comments about environment, behaviours or capabilities it will probably be perceived as feedback and be accepted more readily. This is because your comments are about the performance of the person.

However, if your comments stray into the areas of beliefs, values or identity your comments might be taken as personal, which they are actually. This is when you focus on the performer and the chances are that it will be taken as criticism, not feedback. And, of course, when we feel we are being criticised in this way, we get defensive and don’t really listen or attack back.

As an example, I might say to a salesperson, “Your target was £1million and you have only done £900,000. What are your suggestions for hitting the target?” This comment is aimed at behaviour.

Imagine I said “Why are you such a crap salesperson then?” This comment is obviously aimed at identity and will probably cause a negative reaction. Hopefully you get the idea.

So, if you want people to listen to your feedback on how they can improve, make sure your comments are aimed at the lower levels of Dilts’ model.