What’s worse: giving or receiving feedback? Does it make a difference in either case if you know that the feedback is going to be positive or negative? No-one likes to be the bearer of “bad” news, and negative feedback could always be taken that way, even if we want to frame it as constructive. If we are receiving feedback we want it to be in a form that means we can do something with it (whether it is positive or constructive). Hopefully if you have to deliver feedback you want it to be something that the other person can then do something with. In either case then…
What does effective feedback look like?
There are several qualities of effective feedback. First it needs to take account of both positive and negative qualities. It can’t be all about one side of things. It also needs to be describing actions taken by someone or the impact that it has had – it does not guess what the person was thinking or feeling. Effective feedback reports what can be seen.
Be clear and precise: what exactly did you observe? What made the difference? If you can tell someone that, they will not just be reacting to a result or impact, they can base any kind of change from the action they did. Finally, you have to tell someone as soon as possible. Telling someone weeks or months afterwards will not be as relevant as feedback that is given as soon as possible.
All of these qualities can be summarised by today’s acronym, BOOST. Effective feedback is
- Balanced – it looks at positive and negative aspects, not just one or the other.
- Objective – it looks at the actions and behaviours of someone rather than their personality.
- Observed – it relates to firsthand observations, not just reports from others.
- Specific – there are details to the feedback, rather than vague statements.
- Timely – the person receiving the feedback is told at the first opportunity.
Taken together, these five qualities deliver feedback that can be acted on. How often can you act on the feedback that you receive from other people? How about the feedback you receive from your supervisor? If you need great feedback from others to help your research or your personal development, there are worse things you could do than introduce people you know and trust to tools like BOOST.
In answer to the first question I asked in this post, I think that it is easier to give feedback than receive it. The person giving feedback typically has less at stake than the person receiving. Receiving feedback, positive or constructive, can be hard – and there is a deeper question that is often overlooked of “Why do you want it?” If feedback is only there for an ego stroke or is only going to be used to confirm personal biases, then you don’t need any fancy feedback techniques – you just need someone willing to tell you what you want to hear.
But if you want to challenge yourself, if you want to develop yourself, if you want your work to be the best that it can be, BOOST is a very helpful feedback tool.
Thanks for reading!