5.4 Giving feedback
The importance of feedback
Giving feedback is a valuable means of supporting learning and improving performance.
If you have not worked with someone before, it is important to develop a relationship of trust and mutual respect. In your role as a mentor, this involves getting to know your mentee and, as importantly, letting them get to know you. Remember this is a two-way process. Mentees want to do well and learn; feedback can help tremendously with learning. More broadly it can help you establish whether your mentee has any serious problems.
Feedback works best when:
- A climate of trust exists between the giver and the receiver of feedback.
- It focuses on behaviour rather than personality.
- It contains recognition of strengths as well as of learning need.
- It follows immediately after performance.
- It is related to observed practice; that is, behaviour or achievements not attitudes or personality.
- Information focuses on how to improve performance.
- The receiver is encouraged to clarify their understanding of the feedback.
- Modelling of desired practice is provided.
- Review dates are set.
Consider a time when you have been in a situation where you have been given feedback that you did not feel was helpful.
Can you describe what made it poor feedback?
What do you think was wrong?
How did you respond to the feedback?
Giving feedback – a possible strategy
Before providing feedback, taking time to plan out what needs to be said often makes the process easier. It gives both parties time to reflect on what took place and to consider alternative actions.
- The message you want to communicate – the key points you want to make (writing them down may help you to clarify these and to get them across clearly)
- The setting – where you want to be when you give this information
- The resources you need to reinforce your message, such as policies, documents, records.
Feedback can work particularly well when both parties share their reflections on an event. This can be achieved by allowing time to reflect and debrief.
Areas for consideration could include:
- What were you trying to achieve?
- How do you feel about the event?
- What thoughts and feelings were you conscious of during the event?
- What did you notice during and after the event?
- What did you notice about the people involved?
- Three things you did well
- Three things you didn’t do so well
- Three things you didn’t know or understand
- How do you feel now?
- Three things you would like to do differently next time
- Risks or obstacles stopping you from achieving these changes
- Three things you need to know
- What help do you need to make progress?
One of the most daunting feedback situations you can find yourself in is a situation where you are required to deliver a negative review.
Some of the tactics you may use in order to ensure it goes as smoothly and as constructively as possible include the following:
- Don’t put off providing negative feedback – the best feedback is that which is provided in a timely manner, something that allows your mentee to start to address any potential areas of concern as quickly as possible. Doing this will also help to ensure that negative feedback isn’t stock-piled – negative information is typically better received when delivered in smaller doses.
- Ensure negative feedback is delivered in private - negative feedback should never be given in front of others.
- In addition, negative feedback is something that it is always better to deliver in person – never give in to the temptation to use other techniques such as email.
- Try to ensure the discussion isn’t a one-way conversation – rather than simply telling your mentee what they have done wrong, encourage them to reflect back over the situation under review and start to draw their own conclusions as to where improvement may be needed. Effective questioning can be an important tool to use here.
- Be prepared to listen to your mentee – it is important to give your mentee the chance to tell their side of the story, something that may help you to gain a fuller overview of the situation you are assessing. You may find that you need to adapt your feedback a little in light of this, but this will help to ensure your mentee can see you are taking an active interest in them, something that can help to maintain a good working relationship.
- Ensure the focus of the feedback is on the behaviour of your mentee rather than their personal characteristics – this can help to reduce the chances of your mentee becoming overly defensive.
- Be specific – ensure your discussions focus on exactly what went wrong and include an explanation/exploration as to why this was wrong.
- Ensure your voice and body language sends out an appropriate message – a tone of anger or disappointment should, for example, be avoided at all costs as these colour the words that are being spoken. Instead, aim for something that communicates a sense of interest, care and sincerity.
- The purpose of negative feedback is to create awareness that can lead to correction or improvement in performance. If you can’t give negative feedback in a helpful manner, in the language and tone of concern, you defeat its purpose.
- Ensure that your feedback isn’t solely negative – talk about things that your mentee has done well and reassure them that, although there may have been an issue at some point, they still have many strengths and you still have faith in their abilities.
- Aim to develop a mutually agreed plan of action – rather than leaving the negatives hanging in the air, try and ensure your mentee leaves the session committed to a plan of action that they can use in order to address the identified issues. If there are specific things the mentee needs to start doing or needs to stop doing, be sure they are clearly identified.
Getting started as a mentor
Meeting your mentee for the first time can be a daunting prospect for both parties.
There are, however, a few things that you might want to think about in advance to help ensure that your initial meetings go as smoothly and constructively as possible.
During these initial meetings, the focus should very much be on forming the basis of a good working relationship – remember, the quality of the relationship between the mentor and mentee is fundamental to the success of the mentoring process.
As such, one of the key things you should focus on here is building a rapport with your mentee - creating a feeling of mutual connection underpinned by feelings of recognition and respect i.e. creating a situation in which your mentee can clearly see that someone is taking an interest in them and is prepared to listen to what they have to say.
The basis of good rapport in a relationship is something that can be dependent on first impressions. As such, when taking on a mentoring role, you need to think about the actions you might be able to take in order to ensure that your mentee feels confident and reassured from the first moments of the relationship.
As a mentor, it is important to try and use your body language and tone of voice to send signals to your mentee that give out the right message, something which says, “it’s okay, you are safe, recognised and welcome”.
It is also important to remember that, although established in these early stages, the issue of rapport is something that should be developed and maintained throughout the mentoring relationship – as shown in the following activity, it shouldn’t be something that is considered in the beginning and then forgotten!
The importance of expectations
During the initial stages of the mentor-mentee relationship, it is also a good idea to take some time to set clear expectations. Apprentices may be new to the mentoring process and may have little idea as to what to expect.
To avoid frustrations later on, it is important that mentors remain realistic in talking about what their role is and about what they will be doing to help and support their mentees – making promises at this stage that then can’t be kept as the relationship progresses will potentially damage any trust that has developed.
As part of this, it is a good idea to spend some time working with the mentee to establish some mentoring goals, taking a little time to find out what exactly it is that they are hoping to get out of the process i.e. are there any skills in particular that the mentee would like to develop.
These goals might cover areas such as:
- increasing knowledge in particular areas
- developing specific skills
- learning how to make important decisions
- increasing confidence
Working together it is then a good idea to try and establish a work plan, setting out exactly what you are hoping to achieve over the short-, medium- and long-term of your relationship.
To ensure they are as useful as possible, and to give you and your mentee the best possible chance to succeed in achieving this, it is important to ensure that any objectives that are set are:
You should both be clear about what is to be achieved. A good test would be to ask yourself whether somebody else would understand what you mean without any further explanation or elaboration.
You and your mentee should ask yourselves whether the change that you want to make is, in theory, possible given the practical challenges of the working environment and day to day workload.
It will be important to ensure that your mentee has something in place to allow them to see if and when their target has been met, i.e. what exactly might they be doing that’s different.
Rather than leaving goals open-ended, something which will significantly reduce their chances of being achieved, it is important to think about when you think each goal should be achieved, i.e. agreeing a specific date by which each target should be met.
The following video provides a good example of the way in which a mentor starts to effectively guide their mentee away from a very vague goal into something that’s more short-term and realistic.
Goal too vague transcript
As a final step, it is also a good idea to use your initial meeting to establish a future timetable, setting out a planned frequency of meetings and the more practical aspects of your relationship, such as details about how these will be arranged and the ways in which you will remain in contact.
Issues you may face
Whilst mentoring should ultimately be a very rewarding experience for you, it is something that has the potential to present new challenges and frustrations.
If, however, you have an awareness as to what some of these might be, and the potential strategies that you might look to put in place in order to deal with these, then you will be putting yourself in the best possible position to deal with these issues if and when they arise.
Shown in the figure below are some of the most common problems recorded by those undertaking a mentoring role.
Drawing on your practical experience and anything you may have learned about while studying this course, identify any solutions you feel could be implemented in order to overcome these issues:
“I would like to try and find a bit more time to spend with my mentee but we’re currently struggling to find convenient opportunities to meet – how might we be able to overcome this?”
If you find yourself in this position during your mentoring relationship, then it may not be a situation that you can easily resolve on your own. As such, you may find it beneficial to follow this up with the appropriate people in your organisation, perhaps your own line manager or the person in charge of the mentoring programme.
“When we meet up for our mentoring sessions, I find that it’s me who does most of the talking – how can I encourage my mentee to take a more active role in the process?”
In the early stages of the mentoring relationship, you may find that this is a common situation. If, however, you find this trend continuing throughout your work then you may want to think about your questioning technique – it might be, for example, that you are using closed rather than open questions, something which doesn’t encourage your mentee to open up and explore the issues you are discussing. It might also be that, in your conversations, you are falling into the common trap of jumping in too quickly when there is a lapse in the conversation – remember, silences are normal and a good opportunity for your mentee to think and reflect about the issues under consideration before making their contributions.
Something you might perhaps think about is looking to ensure your mentee has a clear idea as to any specific issues that you will be meeting up to discuss beforehand, something that will give them a bit of thinking time ahead of your session. You might also think about bringing material to a session that can help to create a “safer” environment for your mentee, i.e. basing your discussion on a neutral scenario that relates to issues relevant to your mentee’s work rather than asking them to talk about something more personal, something that can be beneficial for shy or quieter mentees. Once your relationship has been established, you might also ask them to take turns with you when it comes to setting the agenda for your meetings, giving them more involvement in and responsibility for the discussion process.
“My mentee has approached me with a problem that I’m not sure how to deal with – what should I do next?”
These issues provide a useful reminder of the fact that as a mentor, you’re not necessarily going to be able to instantly provide all the answers. As such, you should never be afraid to be honest with your mentee and admit that, at present, they have raised an issue that you’re uncertain about – this is a much better approach than trying to bluff your way through the situation and potentially providing them with incorrect information. What you can also do in this situation is, in follow up to your session, try to find an answer to your mentee’s question and then pass this information on to them. Doing so is something that might also provide you with an opportunity to develop your own knowledge and understanding.
“My mentee and I just don’t seem to be gelling – is there anything I can do to try and secure a better working relationship between us?”
As we see in our everyday lives, there are some people with whom we quickly and easily form a comfortable relationship and others that we have to work harder to secure. If you find yourself in this situation, then you should think about some of the things that you might be able to do in order to develop a rapport with your mentee. This can be something as simple as considering your body language during your time together, ensuring that you are using simple techniques such as smiling and making eye contact – things that can help you to form an empathetic connection with your mentee.
Although there should be an over-riding focus on workplace matters, don’t be frightened to spend a bit of time trying to find out a bit more about your mentee as a person – what are their likes and dislikes etc. In particular, can you find any common ground that you share? You should also not be afraid to open up and tell the mentee something about yourself and your background, again something that can help you in identifying things you have in common.
“I need to give my mentee some negative feedback and I’m worried that this is going to make them upset – how can I ensure this goes as smoothly as possible?”
Providing negative feedback can feel like a daunting prospect, but there are things you can do in order to ensure this is turned into a constructive experience. Rather than diving straight in, it is a good idea, in any feedback situation, to ask your mentee how they thought an event has gone, something which may see them starting to highlight some of the areas of development that you are looking to speak about with them. The more your mentee can be encouraged to identify for themselves what went wrong and how this might be avoided in the future, the more open to discussion of the issues and committed to the potential resolutions that are agreed they are likely to be. Ensure that, when covering the required areas for improvement, any feedback provided also includes a consideration of positives – find examples of things that the mentee has done well.
The SODAS technique
One of the issues you may encounter when working with younger, new entrants to the workplace in particular (i.e. school leavers) is the fact that you will potentially be dealing with mentees who have limited experience in making rational workplace decisions – as such, they may be inclined to act impulsively, simply follow the lead of others or come to you and expect to be given all the answers, something that should be avoided (remember, as a mentor, your role is to advise and guide, helping the mentee to develop the skills and knowledge needed to be able to think for themselves and take a more active role in their personal development).
To assist with this, theorist Jan Rosa developed a simple, easy to remember framework that is designed to aid the development of problem solving skills: the SODAS technique, which encourages mentees to work logically through the following steps:
Situation – look at the situation and describe the problem
Options – list at least three ways to solve the problem
Disadvantages – list at least three disadvantages of each option
Advantages – list at least three advantages of each option
Solution – select the best option based on the advantages and disadvantages
Before using this technique with a mentee, it is worth practicing using this as part of your own working life – try and apply this in a situation where you have a decision to make so that you become more comfortable with this framework.