In a 40-plus-year life I have attended a seemingly endless number of training and education activities, many of which (at least those I remember!) have been very effective. So, last Friday, as I prepared to embark on a weekend training course focused on the art of becoming a trusted advisor to my clients, I was thinking “Will I be able to fine tune my skills?”.

But the weekend was an experience that went beyond my expectations, and left me so much wiser than two days have ever done before! What was different – what made it so rewarding?

Of course a well-designed program, with all the elements of adult learning principles incorporated, ensured it was engaging and interactive. As participants we could see clear benefits to the training, speakers and topics were relevant, and the theory was backed up through experiential learning – mainly in the format of incredibly effective role plays.

But what made it so distinctively different from my earlier learning experiences? Sitting on the plane going home I was still asking myself that question. Then it occurred to me that it was the way feedback was provided.

A powerful four-step feedback model was applied throughout the weekend. The steps themselves are simple and, with a bit of practice, it’s easy enough to become proficient at applying them:

1. Observe – Describe the behavior you see.
Example: “I observe that you talk more than you listen”

2. Impact – Describe the impact that this behaviour has for you; it’s your personal perception and is intrinsically valid.
Example: “which makes you seem less interested in her needs”

3. Pause – Allow the recipient of the feedback to reflect and ask for any necessary clarification

4. Make a suggestion – By making a suggestion, the feedback becomes a form of coaching, providing the recipient with practical ways in which they may change their behavior, should they chose to do so.
Example: “You could try taking a few pauses and ask the person what she thinks?”

And to get the most out of it, remember this when you are the person receiving feedback:

1. Listen to the feedback

2. Avoid becoming defensive or launching a counter-attack

3. Convey that you understand the observation and its impact

4. Accept praise – don’t deny it

Spending two days with trainers who had superb observation and feedback abilities really made a difference. When feedback is given correctly, by a person you trust, it is probably one of the most effective learning techniques of all. Even we as participants started to help each other improve our performance using this powerful, yet simple, technique.

So, next time you make an interesting observation about a colleague, try using the four steps to help them. You might even want to try it outside work as well!

Tina Hahn