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The way with words

With a background in engineering consultancy, Helen Drake is an executive coach specialising in professional development. In the first of a series of articles she gives advice on how to give constructive feedback and take criticism.

One of the regular complaints I hear from people at all levels in different organisations is that they lack feedback. And the feedback they do get is often only at appraisal time or when a customer complains. Worse, when it comes it is often delivered with good intention but appears to the receiver as an assault on their very being.

All too often, the result is that feedback fails to produce any kind of purposeful result. Yet effective feedback is at the heart of learning and development and forms part of the glue that binds together successful organisations and teams.

The purpose of feedback is two-fold. First, motivational feedback tells a person that good performance has been noticed and gives recognition for it, so helping their confidence and motivating them to repeat the good performance in the future.

Secondly, developmental feedback helps a person modify and improve their performance by telling them what needs to be done better next time.

Both types are important and so to is the timing. Regular feedback reassures people that they are on track; it helps immediate change and often removes the 'charge' and anxiety associated with the appraisal process.

The differences between feedback and criticism can be subtle, but a useful definition is: 'if it helps it's feedback and if it hurts, however well intentioned it was, it's criticism.'

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