Wednesday 21 May 2014

How to get better at receiving feedback

In my two previous posts I have written about the theoretical and evidence base on how to make PRAs more effective.  In this post I will be considering the implications of Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen's new book - Thanks For The Feedback - for the both the design of PRA systems and how as individuals we can get better at making the most of PRA systems.

Stone and Heen state that even when negative feedback is given in the most highly skilled manner, the receiver of the feedback is likely to react badly, with this being the result of the tension between being valued for who you are (appreciation) and the need  to learn and grow (development). Stone and Heen state that feedback invariably sets off one of three triggers.

  • Truth triggers are set off by the substantive nature of the feedback, in terms of its accuracy, relevancy and consistency with other evidence, for example, are lesson observation grades consistent with student feedback and achievement,
  • Relationship triggers - the way in which the feedback is received is influenced by the nature of the relationship with the giver -be it the head-teacher, head of department or colleague - are they credible, authentic and does the feedback come with the 'baggage' of previous encounters.
  • Identity triggers - the feedback may lead to the individual challenging his or her sense of identity, of who they are, what they contribute and the value they bring as a teacher, lecturer or manager to a school or college community.
As such, given the inevitability of these responses it is incumbent upon the receiver of feedback to develop strategies to manager his or her tendencies and associated triggers.  Stone and Heen identify six steps for becoming a better receiver of feedback, and these include:

  1. Know your tendencies - do you have a pattern in responding to feedback - is it defensive, passive or aggressive.
  2. The need to disentangle what is being said from who is saying it.
  3. Encourage coaching from the giver of the feedback.
  4. Unpack the feedback - ask questions to explore the reliability and validity of the feedback - are other people saying the same thing?
  5. Ask for just ONE thing to improve - what small step can I take to get better at the task at hand?
  6. Once the feedback has been unpacked - identify small changes and steps which can be used to try out new ideas and behaviours to see if they work.

So what are the implications of the above for PRAs in a school or college setting.  It seems to me that four implications come to mind.
  1. More resource/training/coaching should be committed to helping individuals get better at receiving and acting upon feedback - as this is a skill that can be developed.
  2. PRA systems which seek to combine appreciation, evaluation and coaching in the same session have inherent challenges, which need to be acknowledged and recognised.
  3. Reliable, valid third-party standards and benchmarks should be used where applicable and this helps disentangle the what is being said from who is saying it.
  4. PRAs are a process not an event - and should be treated as such.  Are three 15 minute conversations, with each conversation focussing on one of appreciation, evaluation and coaching better than 60 minutes trying to do all three at once.


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