plus links to feedback exercises and articles around the web

Giving and receiving personal feedback - some creative methods to assist communication.
These feedback techniques have been used successfully with youth and adult groups
and can be readily adapted to suit many situations.
There is something here for most tastes:
Credit Cards for a controlled session
Gifts for a creative approach
 Warm Seat for greatest clarity and for generating action points.



Each card has a short phrase such as: you tried hardest; you surprised me most; you laughed the most; you were the most predictable; you helped me most; you cared most about others etc.

Also known as 'Computer Cards'*, this popular appraisal game, in which people pass each other cards with ready-made messages on them, is very unpopular with individuals who receive a pile of negative cards. (There are better and more sensitive ways of providing critical feedback!) Even if played with cards with only positive messages, those who receive no cards at all do not feel very positive! This game works best when the reviewer knows the group very well and can more or less predict (a) who will get which cards and (b) how each person will respond to what they are likely to receive. This game works well as a reviewing technique if the cards refer to specific events during the activity being reviewed.

* The name 'Computer Cards' seems to come from the 1970s when computer programmes were punched into cards, thus creating a plentiful supply of blank punched cards that could be recycled for many purposes including this feedback exercise. Thank you to Simon Whitehouse from Balanced Perspectives for explaining the likely origin of this unsuitable name! Does anyone know any better?




'GIFTS' is an appraisal activity in which people make, find or mime gifts for each other.
This is a fun activity which tends to bring out surprising amounts of creativity and sensitivity once givers realise the responsibility they have towards the receivers.
Receivers will be more receptive, knowing the time, thought and care that has gone into creating personalised gifts for them.
The qualities represented by the gifts should have been in evidence during the activity being reviewed.
The session should be arranged so that 'appreciative' gifts outweigh 'critical' gifts: each example provided below has two positive messages and one negative message.

These are some of the options for setting up a 'gift' session:

OPTION 1) Divide the group in two or three, and ask sub-groups to prepare gifts for individuals in the other sub-group(s).

OPTION 2) Interview group members one at a time (perhaps for one-to-one reviewing) while the rest of the group are preparing a gift for the person being interviewed somewhere else.

OPTION 3) Individuals or pairs prepare gifts for everyone else in the group, with the result that each individual receives several gifts.



An example of a 'made' gift: light blue paper (representing calm) on which is drawn an outline of someone's hands (representing help), above which is a photograph of a bird cut out from a magazine.
The giver of the gift explains what it means:
"We admired you for your courage when trying to rescue the bird, but we wish you wouldn't go it alone so much, and had asked us to help too. (This is your hand helping the bird. This is our helping hand which you didn't ask for in time.) We admired you for staying calm (the blue) when you needed rescuing."
Making three dimensional gifts (e.g. robots, pets, toys, hats) gives greater scope, but is more time-consuming.
More uses of pictures are described in 'Reviewing with Pictures'



Define an area within which gifts can be found (inside, outside or both) and ask pairs to find one gift for each other person in the group. Explain that the gift should represent two positive messages and one critical message. Here are two examples:
"Here is some sticky tape to help you keep your mouth shut, such as when .... We hope you will find it useful for other things because you are clearly a very practical person in the way you ... And it represents your humour which helped us to stick together as a group."
"This fir cone is you because you'd just lie around doing nothing if we didn't make you join in. All the bits sticking out show the talents you've got but don't use enough - like problem-solving (finding the easiest way of doing things), singing, mimicking other people. And there are bugs crawling around inside because you're friendly to everyone: people always come to you if they need someone to talk to."



If you can't find the right object you can always mime it! Also, mime allows absolutely any object to be gifted (however big or expensive):
"Here is a motorbike (wheelie mime) because you show off a lot - like you said you could do canoeing, but you were the first to fall in. Here is a private jet (flying mime) for going on holidays whenever you want to, because when you're doing activities and things, it makes you happy and much nicer person to know. Here is a lumberjack's axe (chopping mime) because you work really hard and put a lot of effort in - not just the exciting things, but chores as well."



In all of the examples above, each giver gives one negative message and two positive ones, which seems to be the right kind of balance in most appraisal work. Such a balance arguably has a more positive impact than using a 'positive only' rule - which can result in positive comments seeming forced and insincere. Such a balance also means that people are likely to be less defensive when receiving criticism. You can check the impact by asking participants afterwards whether they feel 'knocked back' or 'lifted'. Don't assume that the 2:1 rule of thumb is the optimum ratio for every occasion. Regularly check on the impact that your appraisal sessions are having and adjust your approach accordingly.




The 'warm seat' generates ideas for action points for the seated person.
Unlike the 'hot seat' where individuals are put on the spot and face questions from others, the 'warm seat' is a comfortable seat from which the seated person asks the questions. The most important feature of this reviewing method is that the seated person is in control: if they feel 'too hot', 'too cold' or in any way uncomfortable, they leave the seat to stop whatever is being said.

  • The group will have shared a number of experiences together and they are ready to think about applying what they have learned to situations outside the immediate learning environment. The concept of action points is briefly explained, and each person is asked to think of one or two questions to ask to the group which will help them with ideas for action points. (How could I be more ...? What should I do if ...? How could I get on better with ...?)
  • Seating is arranged in a horse-shoe facing the 'warm seat'. The first questioner sits in the warm seat and asks their question, which is then clearly written up on a board behind the 'warm seat'. This arrangement focuses the group's attention both on the question and on the questioner.
  • If the questioner asks a question about a situation which is not well known to the group, the reviewer should say, "It will not be easy to answer your question unless you tell us a bit more about ..."
  • The questioner may choose to change their question, ask extra questions, or give more information but (assuming there is a time limit for each person's time in the warm seat), the more they talk, the more they reduce the time for answers.




I like to encourage feedback that is normal, natural and informal, but I also find myself setting up special frameworks, exercises, rules, etc. to ensure that ALL participants have the opportunity to benefit from a useful and empowering supply of feedback.
TIMING I will try to set up a feedback session as early as possible in a programme - a point where I think there is a good chance that everyone in the group has something positive (and fairly substantial) to say about everyone else. Announcing the nature of the session well in advance can help learners to prepare for it. You can even give a group control of the timing by asking them to let you know when they have each noticed examples of (say) co-operative behaviour in each other person in the group.
REVIEW Relatively 'light' feedback sessions can help to generate the trust that is needed for more ambitious feedback sessions to work well later on. By carrying out reviews of feedback sessions, the group can be encouraged to develop their own rules or can shape the nature of feedback that they will find acceptable and useful. This helps them to take responsibility for their own learning as well as helping them to take responsibility for how they learn.
DEPTH Sessions that are either too deep or too shallow will soon put a group off feedback. I find that open and progressive strategies of the kind described above help me to pitch feedback and other sessions at an optimum level, and result in high ratings for feedback sessions at the end of a course. You may choose to trust learners' judgement completely, or you may choose to use their judgement to 'inform' your professional judgement. Either way, you are demonstrating that you value other people's judgements - which is what feedback is all about!



Feedback Methods linked to the Active Reviewing Cycle

Changing Places
seeing yourself as others see you. An exercise for developing empathy and providing feedback.

SEQ: Style, Effect, Questions
SEQ is one of many alternative ways in to giving feedback. Its particular strength is that it tends to focus on what most people want to hear: what they were like, what effect they had, how well they communicated, plus an opportunity to ask their own questions to the group. It is particularly suitable for providing feedback for leaders, as well as providing a useful framework for you to receive feedback on your facilitation. You will find a full description in the success section of the Active Reviewing Guide.

This FEEDBACK page is based on 'Playback: A Guide to Reviewing Activities' - where you will find further exercises about feedback (off-line and in the book!) including observation, egoing, multi-perspective reports, self-images and prediction work.

Another on-line page from Playback is 'Rounds' which includes ways of providing feedback through sentence completion exercises.

Giving and Receiving Feedback 18 methods listed in the September 2000 edition of Active Reviewing Tips

Appreciating Success describes some more feedback exercises.

Lucky Duck Publishing has some excellent resources about feedback work with young children and teenagers in a school setting (once you have re-arranged the furniture!). This includes Circle Time and a positive 'no blame' approach to bullying.

The Personal Image Feedback Program [no longer on the web] For a completely different approach you can buy a computer generated report summarising feedback from 10 people you know. This semi-anonymous approach to soliciting feedback is a way of getting feedback from people who prefer not to give feedback face to face. I prefer the more personal approach that uses and builds trust and openness (see above!) but you may wish to investigate this semi-anonymous alternative that is a close relation of '3600 Feedback'.

Performance without appraisal questions whether appraisals work. ''Is [appraisal] time and effort well spent or is it undermining performance in the name of good human relations?'' John Seddon's article looks at feedback and appraisal from a critical systems thinking perspective.

Giving and Receiving Feedback Some excellent links assembled by Carter McNamara, including Basic Guidelines in Giving Feedback, Feedback in a Pleasant and Constructive Way, How To Give Good Feedback, A Contrast of the Technical and Social Science Views of Feedback, and Handling Criticism With Honesty and Grace

Performance Feedback An excellent article by Julie Freeman: "How to Improve the Effectiveness of Performance Management and Appraisal by Overcoming the Root Cause of the Problem"
This article explores why existing formal and informal approaches to employee performance management and appraisal (EPMA) tend to work well enough in theory, but fail to meet expectations in practice. It is split into two parts. Part 1 identifies the root cause of the problem and presents a solution for how it can be eliminated, or at least minimized. Part 2 explains in more detail how this solution works. Various suggestions for how it can be applied to meet differing individual or corporate needs are also outlined.

Providing Learners with Feedback
Research-based recommendations for training, education and e-learning by Will Thalheimer (2008)
Part 1 (pdf) provides background and recommendations. Part 2 focuses on research support.

Teams Need Open Leaders by Michael Maccoby
Research Technology Management, Vol. 38 No. 1 January February, 1995. pp. 57-59.
Maccoby asks ''If openness is so good, why don't we have more of it?'' He describes how the appetite for open honest feedback developed amongst a group of managers he was working with over a series of meetings. He concludes: ''Unless openness is carefully managed, euphoric instant intimacy does not last very long.''

Creating a high performance culture through effective feedback by Sarah Cook. summary of Training Journal Article, August 2001 (full article is for purchase)

The trials, tribulations and trauma of feedback! by Carol Laughlin. Summary of Training Journal Article, April 2000. Tips are in the full version. [Internet Archive, Wayback Machine]

The Pygmalion effect reconsidered: its implications for education, training and workplace learning by Daragh Murphy, Clifton Campbell and Thomas N. Garavan, Journal of European Industrial Training 23/4/5 [1999] 238-250 [Now only available to JEIT members at this URL] A detailed critical review of what the research does and doesn't say. It incudes some practical checklists summarising effective practice that harnesses the Pygmalion Effect.

Abstract: Reviews the literature on the Pygmalion effect and in particular its implications for workplace learning and training. The article considers the wide ranging debate within the education literature on the value of the Pygmalion concept and also considers research conducted in training and workplace settings. The implications of the concept for learning design, trainee self-esteem, trainer behaviours, and workplace learning are considered.
A detailed critical review of what the research does and doesn't say. It includes some practical checklists summarising effective practice that harnesses the Pygmalion Effect.

Providing Learners with Feedback  Research-based recommendations for training, education, and e-learning, from Dr. Will Thalheimer, Work-Learning Research, Inc. This thorough 2 part report was published May 2008 - and it's free.

What Self-Esteem Is and Is Not article by Nathaniel Branden
Other articles and books by Nathaniel Branden who popularised the term 'self-esteem' in the 1950's.

Thick Skin Thinking: How To Use Negative Feedback To Your Advantage At Work tips article by Denis Wilson (FastCompany, 2012)

The Other Side of the Stick - Receiving Feedback Article by Robert Wolfe (THNK Insights 2015)

Getting, Giving and Receving Feedback
Here are some wise and concise tips from Andrew Bergin at
[reproduced here with Andrew's permission]

Getting Feedback
An old adage – “You don’t ask, you don’t get.” If a boss doesn’t give feedback, shame on them.
If you don’t ask for it, shame on you.

    * Evaluate Yourself – think about your own view first
    * Pick Your Spots – know when and where to ask each person
    * Make It Matter – don’t ask on everything, pick key stuff
    * Get Specific – ask what worked and what to work on
    * Offer Thanks – courtesy goes a long way in business

Giving Feedback
Follow a time honored HR tip – “Feedback should be about a person’s performance or behavior, not about them as a person”.
Respect counts.

    * Be Prepared – avoid ‘shoot from the lip’ feedback
    * Be Specific – vague feedback gives you nothing to work on
    * Ditch the Dump Truck – people can change 1 thing, not 12
    * Focus on Facts – make it personal and you lose credibility
    * Watch Your Language – substitute “and” for “but”
    * Refuse to Dance – don’t return emotion with emotion

Receiving Feedback
Follow Ken Blanchard’s advice – “Feedback is the breakfast of champions”.
Great performers use feedback to raise the level of their game.

    * Open Your Mind – don’t get stuck in preconceptions
    * Listen Well – don’t interrupt and play it back for clarity
    * Write It Down After – what’s the use if you can’t remember
    * Gauge Its Relevance – to yourself and your role
    * Do Something With It – if you don’t apply it, don’t ask again


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