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Giving Feedback

David Gibson gave me permission to share this terrific exercise on coaching and giving appropriate feedback.

All you’ll need is about 12 marker pens and a box the size of a waste paper bin or the waste paper bin itself, plus 3 volunteers. Conducting the exercise is fairly simple:

  • Ask the 3 volunteers to leave the room.
  • Let the group know that they are to remain silent throughout the next part of the exercise.
  • Ask Volunteer 1 to return.
  • Give Volunteer 1 the 12 pens and ask them to close their eyes and not to re-open them until you say it’s time.
  • Place the box 3-4 meters away from your volunteer.
  • Let the volunteer know that there’s a box in front of them and that they are to throw as many of the pens as possible into the bin.
  • Instruct them to start (while everyone else remains silent).
  • Thank the volunteer and ask them to take a seat.

Chances are that none of the pens will actually go into the box. Now you will move on to Volunteer 2. This time . . .

  • Tell the group of observers, “You may now offer feedback but non-specific feedback.  For instance, after throw 4 you say ‘the first throw was closer,’ or ‘you throw like my grandmother,’ or ‘ nice throwing action, nice try’ (even if it isn’t).
  • Ask Volunteer 2 to return.
  • Give Volunteer 2 the 12 pens and ask them to close their eyes and not to re-open them until you say it’s time.
  • Place the box 3-4 meters away from your volunteer.
  • Let the volunteer know that there’s a box in front of them and that they are to throw as many of the pens as possible into the bin.
  • Instruct them to start and encourage the non-specific feedback from the group.
  • Thank the volunteer and ask them to take a seat.

Chances are, again, no pens will go into the box. Time to move on to Volunteer 3. This time . . .

  • Give the following instructions to the group of observers, “Offer specific feedback, now.  For instance, ‘a little harder,’ ‘more to the right,’ ‘more to the left,’ etc.
  • Ask Volunteer 3 to return.
  • Give Volunteer 3 the 12 pens and ask them to close their eyes and not to re-open them until you say it’s time.
  • Place the box 3-4 meters away from your volunteer.
  • Let the volunteer know that there’s a box in front of them and that they are to throw as many of the pens as possible into the bin.
  • Instruct them to start and encourage the group to give specific feedback.
  • Thank the volunteer and ask them to take a seat.

On this third try, chances are the pens started to go into the box.

Debrief

  • Ask volunteer 1 how it felt – they are likely to respond with such things as, I had no ideas where I was throwing the pens or where the box (target) was, so I just kept throwing randomly.
  • Ask volunteer 2 how it felt – they are likely to respond with, it was a bit confusing as I was asked to repeat like throw 1 but that was 5 throws before and I couldn’t remember, I liked when they said it was nice but nice in what way, it would have been better if they could have given me specific information.
  • Ask volunteer 3 how it felt – they are likely to respond, it was great getting specific things to try, the first throw was random but after that I felt like I was getting closer to the target with each throw and nice to have a cheer when I actually started getting the pens in the box.
  • Ask the group to work in teams and generate a list of what great feedback should include:
    Expect them to come up with advice such as: feedback needs to be given or no change will happen; feedback should be specific and timely; feedback should be positive, actionable and meaningful.

Thank you David for this suggestion and contribution! David Gibson is currently a Training Facilitator for Eureka’s Train-The-Training workshops at Eureka! in the UK.

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