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The three types of feedback

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The three types of feedback

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Feedback is crucial to a social business, both on an individual and an institutional level.  At an individual level it’s crucial for the development of employees, and in ensuring that their skills are as appropriate for their environment as possible.  Likewise, at an institutional level, it’s crucial that feedback from customers rapidly flows throughout the organization to ensure as rapid a response to the marketplace as possible.

The institutional flow of feedback is undoubtedly vital, and sits at the heart of what it means to be a sense and respond organization, but I’d like to focus this particular blog on individual feedback.  Over the last few years we’ve seen a big shift in the volume and frequency of feedback in the workplace.

Whereas traditionally feedback was constrained to set piece events that were conducted once or twice a year.  With the introduction of social feedback tools such as Work.com, we’re seeing feedback as something that occurs on a much more regular basis.  Despite the increase in opportunities for giving feedback, it is still something that many of us struggle with, especially when the feedback is negative in some way.

Harvard researchers Douglas Stone and Sheila Steen believe that feedback generally falls into one of three camps.  Each of these serves an important purpose, satisfies particular needs, and indeed comes with their own particular challenges.  It’s important therefore to understand what kind of feedback you’re giving, or indeed receiving.


The first kind is arguably the easiest to give, although it’s still something we don’t tend to give often enough.  Saying how grateful we are of something or someone is an easy form of feedback to understand.  At its basic level, it’s saying thanks to a colleague or to your team.  It shows that they matter to you, and their efforts are valued.  Typically, when we hear that there is a lack of feedback at work, it’s often meant that there is a lack of appreciation.


Coaching is an altogether different kind of feedback.  This isn’t a case of wanting your ego massaged or to feel that you’re valued.  Coaching is much more instructional.  You want to receive advice and feedback that will enable you to go about your work more effectively.  Instigating coaching type feedback tends to come via two routes.  The first is that your current skills are insufficient to meet the challenges you face, and therefore you need to improve.  The second driver is more relational in that it tends to revolve not around your skills, but in how you’re engaging with another person.


The final kind of feedback is the kind normally reserved for those formal performance appraisal events that I’m sure you’re all familiar with. It’s the kind where you typically end up being rated, ranked and assessed.  They usually involve some kind of comparison, either against someone else or against an arbitrary standard.

Suffice to say, all three of these forms of feedback are valuable and satisfy unique needs, but it’s important that you understand which of the three you’re trying to deliver, or indeed which of the three you hope to receive, if the feedback is to achieve the desired result.

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