How to give better feedback and be a better mentor

Sheldon: Leonard, I’ve got terrible news.

Leonard: What’s going on?

Sheldon: Before I tell you, perhaps I should soften the blow. Your face is pleasingly symmetrical.

Leonard: Just tell me.

Sheldon: A Swedish team of physicists is trying to scoop our super-fluid vortex experiment.

I love the “Big Bang Theory”. And if you laughed at the above quote from The Helium Insufficiency episode, that’s because you might know intuitively that ‘softening the blow’ doesn’t always work.

Except that many of us have been taught to use “The Feedback Sandwich”– say something positive, deliver the not-so-good-news, then something positive.

I mean, an expert said we have to do that, so we have to follow the standard practice, right?

But when you see it from the perspective of the “Big Bang Theory” above, standard practice doesn’t always make sense or work well. Nor does supposed ‘best practice’.

A much better way to give feedback

Personally and professionally, before I open my mouth I live my these precepts:

  • Is it true?
  • Is it necessary?
  • Can I say it more thoughtfully?

And of course, “Is it my place to say it?”.

This is because we often think that being authentic is saying what we think. But it isn’t.

It’s about being thoughtful and responsible. And sometimes, some things are merely our opinions.

Besides, no one likes unsolicited advice.

Then, you can use this formula:

  1. Here’s why I’m saying this
  2. Here’s what I think your potential is.
  3. Here’s where you are.
  4. Here’s the gap.
  5. Here’s how you might fill the gap.

Start conversing

Before rounding it off with, “What do you think?”, so this invites conversation.

The receiver of the feedback may be grateful, surprised or a combination of various emotions. Allow them some time to digest. Because sometimes we’re good at hiding things, or sometimes we’re aware of something we need to get better at, but it’s filed as ‘when that happens’. . because the finishing posts are always moving. Or they might feel the need to justify why things are the way they are— that’s okay, we are naturally defensive creatures.

As you both open a conversation, you can then strategise how to do #5 in a way that aligns with their goals, lifestyle and personality.

Here, when someone asks you for advice, it is always tempting to say what worked for us. But it may not translate as well to them. So you could ask, “What are you trying to get out of this course of action or question?”, so that you can tailor your answers accordingly.

Finally, you can both set check-ins and milestones, so everyone knows if they’re on the right track.

If you would like more neuroscience of getting your team into the right mindset with the right communication and feedback, join us at our next open workshop series