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Giving feedback using the DESC model

Everybody understands that performance feedback should be constructive, focused and to the point. Effective feedback can resolve conflicts, overcome problems and improve individual and team morale. It doesn’t really need mentioning that ineffective feedback often accomplishes the opposite. Or that if you are skilled at giving effective feedback, your team will be more motivated, which leads to better performance.





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“While feedback should focus on behaviour, performance feedback is still a personal conversation between people about people. Emotions always play a part in interpersonal communication. Effective feedback is as much about bringing the right message(s) across as it is about how your message is interpreted.”

Scott Levey

Some feedback facts*

  • 98% of employees will fail to be engaged when managers give little or no feedback
  • 69% of employees say they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better recognized
  • 78% of employees said being recognized motivates them in their job

*(source)

Giving positive feedback is easy

No matter how skilled the feedback giver is, if the receiver isn’t interested in hearing or taking the feedback, nothing will get through. The more difficult the feedback, the more the giver needs to consider the the emotional impact of the feedback. Giving positive feedback is easy.

What is and isn’t feedback?

In an interpersonal environment, feedback is communication about a person’s performance and how their efforts contribute to reaching goals. Feedback is not criticism. Criticism is evaluative; feedback is descriptive. Effective feedback is goal-referenced and tangible, actionable, personalized, timely, ongoing and consistent. As a leader, giving feedback is a task you perform again and again, to let people know where they are and where to go next in terms of individual, team, and company goals.

Giving feedback is a touchy thing. Think back over feedback you have received in the past. Chances are you’ve been given feedback that helped you develop. And, unfortunately, chances are somewhere in your career you’ve been given feedback that made you feel defensive, resistant or unmotivated. By putting yourself back in your old shoes, and thinking about how they actually gave you the feedback, you can improve your own feedback skills.

Common mistakes people make when giving feedback

  1. Avoiding giving feedback
  2. Focusing on the person and not the performance
  3. Giving feedback on what is going wrong, and never on what is going right
  4. Coming  across as judgmental
  5. Doing all the talking, and none of the listening
  6. Giving the feedback without any context
  7. Making generalized, vague statements
  8. Avoiding responsibility for what they are saying by referring to others
  9. Getting defensive if they don’t understand you, or you don’t understand them

“We can’t let our own success, education and advancement ride on whether the person giving us feedback happens to be talented or caring. We have to learn to learn from everyone around us, including people who are lousy at giving feedback, or who don’t have the time to do it thoughtfully. Our individual success depends on it, and so does the collective success of the organization.

The DESC model

In our skills-based Leadership training, we use the simple 4-step model DESC for structuring feedback. Participants in our “Practical Toolbox for Managers” seminars often highlight DESC as one of the most valuable tools they take away. This model is designed to help you to get your message clear and it can even take the stress out of the feedback conversation for those of us that weren’t born with effective feedback-giving skills.

DESCRIPTION

Give an objective and concrete description of what you have observed using “I” statements.

EFFECT

Explain the effect or impact it had on your business, the team or its members. If the effect was an emotion, name it. Your body language and tone of voice will already be showing your elation or frustration – putting them out in the open can help you move things forward.

SOLUTION

Build the solution through a directive (“What I would like you to do next time is …”) or a participative approach (“What do you think we can do to avoid this next time?”).

CONCLUSION

Build a “contract of commitment”. Check your understanding of what has been agreed, and get commitment for the future.

Further Leadership resources:

Asking for feedback

1001meetingsphraseslargeI recently asked a colleague for some feedback following a presentation which I thought had been a bit shaky. ‘You did great’ was the reply, and the conversation moved on. Later on, when the warm glow of being told ‘well done’ had faded, I asked myself what I had actually learnt from that feedback and how would it help me improve. I realized that apart from thinking what a nice person my colleague was, I’d actually heard nothing which would help me do better next time. It then dawned on me that this was because of how I’d gone about asking for it. If I wanted to get meaningful feedback, then the way I asked for it had to be structured too.

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Basic steps to get the feedback you want

Getting feedback from peers is one of the most useful tools we have for enhancing our performance. Peer feedback is in real time, looks at learnt skills being used in real situations, and it’s from ‘end users’. But how we go about asking for this feedback has a huge influence on how useful what we hear will be. No more ‘Do you think my presentation was OK’? type questions, what do you really want to know?

Check with your peer that they are comfortable giving you feedback

If they say no, it’s not necessarily because they have nothing good to say! Not everyone is comfortable giving feedback, and those that aren’t tend to give the type of empty answers such as ‘great’ or ‘it was fine’.  A few ways to ask could be:

  • “I’m really hoping to improve my presentations skills and could use your help.  Do you mind giving me some feedback after my presentation?”
  • “Could you give me some feedback on my presentation afterwards?  It would help me a lot in improving my presentation skills.” 

Be specific about what you want feedback on

When asking for feedback, briefly explain what you would like to cover, and why it’s important to you.

  • “It would help me a lot if you could specifically pay attention to my body language during my presentation.”
  • “Could you try and focus on how I transition from point to point during my talk?”

And, if the other person is struggling to think of something to say, ask two basic questions:

  • “What did I do best?” 
  • “Is there something I can improve?” 

Don’t be afraid to dig deeper

For example, I was told that I had lost the audience in a presentation. By asking where I had lost them, why did they feel this had happened and did they have any suggestions for what I could do differently, I was able to think of ways to prevent this happening in my next presentation.                            

Since following these steps, I’ve found feedback far more useful and an increase in respect from both sides. There have only been a couple of times that I’ve winced at something somebody has said, but what they said was true. Ultimately, audiences at future presentations have benefited. So, take a big breath, smile and ask the question – could I ask you for some feedback?