Athletes know that to improve they have to receive feedback on their performance. The feedback they receive may come by way of analysis of their performance on the track through a review of a video or analysis of their fitness, analysis of their diet and metabolism or even analysis of their muscle fibre.

The more specific the feedback, the better the potential they have to improve their performance. Feedback is given on whether the diet needs changing, or the level of effort they expend in exercise, or the intensity of the exercise or the level of repetitions and so on.

Even more valuable feedback is given in that there are standards for every measurement. Standards are known for not only what times they should be running, but also what body fat level they should have, what percentage of fast twitch muscle is best for their event and other factors pertinent to their performance.

Standards are developed from comparing world’s best practice and determining the requirement for a particular athlete at their level of development or from empirical research carried out by the national sports institute.

Most of us recognise the feedback given to athletes as being necessary and extremely valuable to aid their performance development. The feedback is given as personal data. The data is specific. If data is not available, then controlled, documented observations are used. The feedback is related only to the goals of the athlete at the particular stage of their development.

If it is intuitively true to us that feedback to athletes that is specific, realistic, related to the goals of the person, direct and non judgemental, then why do we, as managers, struggle to give feedback to subordinates?

Perhaps part of our inability to give feedback stems from our inability to receive feedback. To receive feedback we need to follow a few simple rules.

In seeking feedback we need to be explicit. Make it clear what kind of feedback we are seeking. If necessary, indicate what kinds we do not want to receive. The feedback from others is entirely for our benefit and if we do not indicate what we want we are unlikely to get it.

If we are receiving unsolicited feedback we still need to be specific about how we want to receive the feedback. We should not put up with poor feedback technique such as ?You did well? or ?You did poorly?. We need to ask, ?What did I do well??, and ?Why was it considered to be a job well done??, and ?What is the impact on the organisation of doing the job the way I did it??, and ?What could I do even better next time??

We need to be aware. We need to notice our reactions, both intellectual and emotional. Particularly notice any reactions of rejection or censorship on our part. If the viewpoint from which the other is speaking is at variance with our own we should not dismiss it. Some people find it useful to partially dissociate or distance themselves in this situation and act as if they were witnessing feedback being given to someone else.

We need to be silent and refrain from making a response other than to clarify the feedback; to not even begin to frame a response in our own mind until we have listened carefully to what has been said and have considered and clarified the implications; to not be distracted by the need to explain. If we really need to give an explanation do it later after the feedback session.
To give feedback we need to consider some simple rules from the flip side of the coin. Be realistic, directing our comments towards matters about which the person can do something. Ask people to do something different, not to be something different.

Be specific, accurate and timely, giving sufficient data based information to pinpoint the areas to which we are referring. Allow the other person to have a clear idea of what is being said about those specific areas when it is fresh in their mind.

Be sensitive to the goals of the person and not just our goals. The work was produced for a specific purpose and we should be aware of that purpose and give our views accordingly.

Be descriptive and describe our views. Don’t say what we think the person should feel. Offer considered, rational views and allow the other person to accept or reject them as he or she sees fit.

Be consciously non-judgemental, offering our personal view and not acting as an authority.

Be direct and say what we mean. Avoid wrapping it up in fancy words or abstract language.

If we take feedback seriously either giving or receiving, we may indeed find we have been sharing our bacon and eggs with a team of champions.