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How to ensure feedback results in improvements


Strictly Come Dancing may be over but what the judges have taught us about giving feedback can last all year.

Saturday nights aren’t the same without the sequins sparkling and insults flying as celebrities perform in front of millions trying to imitate pro dancers in Strictly Come Dancing.

This is a real example of how quality feedback results in significant performance improvement. So what pointers can we take from the judges to use feedback as an encouragement tool?

  • Ensure a person knows what is expected of them: Do not just let someone get on with it – set tangible expectations, work on the detail until it is understood, tweak if required and, importantly, instil a sense of confidence that the person will reach their potential.
  • Consider your relationship: Accepting feedback can be problematic. Not all relationships are open and honest. Some people find accepting positive feedback difficult. Are there any factors that will distort the messages, such as previous meetings to discuss performance that did not go so well?
  • Be authentic and encourage: Craig Revel Horwood being Mr Nice Guy? It would never work. Do not suddenly change your style but do consider the individual and your approach – it is important that “feedback” does not cause dread in your team. Do not save up everything for one huge meeting – it is OK to give feedback if a job is done well or it is obvious that things need addressing. Empathy, saying positive things, tackling issues, listening, questioning and summarising are the key skills that help encouragement.

Remember, the impact of your feedback will be highly visible in increasing confidence, encouraging honest discussions about performance and improving service quality – much more important than a 10 from Craig.

Structuring difficult feedback


  • Know what you are trying to achieve and which examples to use, and identify questions that will encourage the other person to talk

Be in control

  • Think about the areas in which you are going to give the feedback


  • State at the outset what the discussion is about

Be specific

  • “What you did or said was…”
  • “The impact of that on me was…”
  • “I felt…”
  • “I think your intention was this…” (ask a question)
  • “Request, if this were to happen again, I would ask that you do”
  • “This will lead to…”

Summarise feedback

  • Agree next steps plus support

Summarise everything

  • Pull everything together at the end so that you can check everything has been understood, and that you are both clear on what was discussed and any actions to be taken

Linda Burke works with public, not-for-profit, professional services  and retail organisations. She offers support in change management, leadership and team development. Her company, Newton HR, helps with change and employment issues


Readers' comments (2)

  • michael stone

    This article seems to be mainly about how to GIVE feedback - a good starting point, would be to make sure the NHS listens to, as opposed to ignores or dismisses, feedback from patients and relatives (especially any feedback which the clinicians initially find difficult to understand).

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  • michael stone

    As nobody else has decided to join in.

    It would also be useful, if managers ever 'got back to' those nurses who tick 'I would like feedback' on their concern/compalint forms - that cropped up a while ago, and the situation seems to be that feedback/discussion almost never follows the completion of the form. As it is staggerignly easy to misunderstand a written document (accidentally or deliberately), 'serious issues' need to be elaborated face-to-face, to be certain that at least the feedback is understood (so cannot be 'ignored out of ignorance').

    Usually it is the discussion the feedback generates, which is the point of the exercise.

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