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Four Suggestions on Giving Feedback

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

This piece is reprinted from The Marshall Memo, Kim Marshall’s weekly summary of current research and best practices in the field of education. Drawing on his experience as a teacher, principal, central office administrator, consultant, and writer, Kim Marshall lightens the load of busy educators by serving as their “designated reader.”
The article: “What Doctors, Managers, and Police Officers Taught me About Delivering Effective Feedback” by Adam Molinsky, March 7, 2017,; Molinsky can be reached at
In this article adapted from his new book, Reach (Penguin Random House, 2017), Adam Molinsky (Brandeis University) says most people aren’t crazy about getting critical feedback, and giving it is often an uncomfortable and stressful exercise. But feedback is essential, says Molinsky, and he offers these pointers from his observations of doctors, managers, and police officers having difficult conversations. The objective, he says, is making “the entire process a bit less painful and, hopefully, more productive:”
• Give the other person a heads-up. This doesn’t need to be far in advance – just a comment like, “Hey, do you have a minute? I wanted to give you some quick feedback.” If people know something critical is coming, they may be better prepared to hear it.
• Be non-judgmental and specific. “Of course, at some level feedback is judgmental,” says Molinsky, “but try to avoid a judgmental tone.”
- Ineffective – “I can’t believe you interrupted me like that.”
- Better – “When you interrupted me twice during the conversation, it reduced my credibility with the team.”
- Ineffective – “Stop being such a jerk.”
- Better – “When you said that, it made me upset and I also noticed Henry appeared angry.”
It’s also important to be as specific as possible about the exact behavior you’re upset about.
• Do it sooner rather than later. Seize the moment while the memory is fresh; this helps you be specific and capture the incident’s impact on you and others. However, talking too soon can be a problem if emotions are high, others are present, or the person is in the middle of something that shouldn’t be interrupted.
• Reflect on why it’s important. Before speaking to the other person, it’s important to focus inward “on developing a sense of purpose for why you feel justified in delivering this feedback in the first place,” says Molinsky. “Perhaps you care deeply about helping others develop and improve… Or perhaps it’s the mission of your organization you’re passionate about, and that by delivering feedback, you’ll be helping advance the mission. Wherever your conviction comes from, it’s important to find and embrace it.”

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