(Monthly Blog)   Clean and Dirty Feedback

It goes without saying that constructive feedback which helps us learn and develop is the best type of feedback to receive.  Constructive feedback challenges and supports as well as facilitates a space for the individual to reflect, adapt and test out new bahaviours and changes.  Objective feedback is clear, evidence based and 'Clean'.  Subjective feedback on the other hand is ambiguous, has no basis or evidence (is therefore third party) and is often driven by the ego of the giver which can cover a number of shadow behaviours and biases.


Recently I experienced 'dirty feedback' firsthand.  The person providing the feedback used phrases such as 'What I'm hearing here is...'  When I asked for specifics the feedback giver was unable to provide anything solid.  Infact what they did do was underpin it with what I heard as a 'subtle warning with a threat'!  So what was the impact on me?  Had I not known about the value of feedback as a gift and the importance of clean over dirty feedback I would have taken it to heart and beaten myself up about it!  However I chose to think about it, accept it as their opinion and leave it at that... since dirty feedback really has (in my opinion) little if any value!


So how should feedback be given?

  1. Describe the actual behaviours and actions of the individual i.e. what the person actually did.  It is important to 'own' your feedback rather than say something along the lines of 'People are saying....', or 'What I'm hearing is ....'  Third party feedback lacks ownership and accountability and is generalised with no evidence based statements.
  2. Ensure your feedback is specific and timely.  Research shows that feedback given as early as possible creates stronger correlation and acceptance with commitment to address the behaviour.  Feedback provided after weeks or months becomes flawed by our own interpretations and for the person receiving the feedback it may not even resonate!
  3. Quantify the behaviour - this is particularly helpful where you notice and/or experience repeated behavioural patterns and attitudes which have positive or negative effects.
  4. As the provider of feedback, you have a responsibility for giving specific behaviou based feedback.  This can be heard in statements such as 'What I observed is ...' 'What I saw was ...' 'What I heard....', etc.  This is Clean, behaviour based feedback .  When you provide feedback with third-party statements such as 'What others are saying/observe/seeing' etc.  is Dirty feedback is unlikely to be behaviour based and which you as the provider of feedback have probably not fully understood it since chances are you did not observe the situation first hand.

Practice activity:

  • Identify a situation and individual you want to give Clean feedback to
  • State the behaviours
  • Phrase these objectively
  • Reflect on your own feelings as you think and capture your feedback
  • State your purpose in giving the feedback - i.e. is it Clean or Dirty?  Is it constructive and helpful? Is there an agenda in your feedback?  
  • Identify and state your true intention, are your biases influencing your feedback?
  • Capture your reflections.