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How to Deliver Meaningful Feedback to Your Kids – or to Anyone

Most parents think their role is to correct – to watch for the places that their kids miss the mark and get them back on the mark. So if the greatest amount of communication your kids hear from you is correcting or criticism, how likely are they to want to tune in?

It is the same for the workplace. If your communication as a manager is primarily critical or corrective, you will disengage your employees. It isn’t that they don’t and shouldn’t get corrective feedback, but if it is the only feedback they get they will soon just tune you out. And throw out the term ‘constructive criticism’ – who even pays attention to anything introduced by this oxymoron (constructive – build up, criticism – take down). Lose that term and just give focus on feedback.

Feedback is information. That means as much as it can be corrective, it can also applaud and be supportive. Its sole purpose is to share information in this moment, about this person’s behavior, in this situation – to make the next moment better.

How to deliver feedback to your kids – or to anyone

  1. Show up present and aware to your situations. You can’t offer feedback – supportive or corrective – if you have no idea of what is going on. Most of us are so mindless that we only notice things when they go really wrong. That means most of the time we are missing the things that go right – all worthy of supportive feedback. Tune in. Pay attention. You can’t guide, support and coach if you don’t know what is going on.
  2. Make feedback only supportive or corrective. Supportive means you identified something done well that deserves praise or acknowledgement – to encourage it to be repeated. Corrective means the action missed the mark and needs to improve or change. Feedback is done only to be productive, not so an angry parent or manager can vent. Vent if you must, then get on to feedback.
  3. Make feedback only about behaviors. Feedback is information on how someone acts or acted – not who someone is. You may be upset at the actions of your 5 year old or your 20 year old (or your millennial or boomer employee), but that doesn’t make them bad, horrible or awful. Their behaviors may be off the mark, but who they are at the core as people, is still unique, amazing and awesome. The same with supportive feedback – it is supporting or applauding the behavior. Reconnecting to their core greatness is one of the purposes of powerful supportive or corrective feedback.
  4. Deliver feedback in a way that the other person understands it. Feedback has two parts – its content and its delivery. Be sure both of these align to who is receiving the feedback. Big explanations to someone young or raising a voice to someone who is timid and shy will guarantee that you will not be heard. You will be tuned out. Choose what to say. Choose how to say it. Be intentional.

Our job as parents is to guide, support and coach our kids to discover, develop and live what is best in them. This is one enormous feedback exercise. Our kids experience their world, get feedback and make adjustments. In fact we all do. Imagine how much clearer and easier this process would be if we were better at delivering meaningful feedback.

How will you change your feedback to be more current, more supportive or corrective, delivered in a way that matters, limited to behaviors and done with care, interest and concern? You can inspire anyone to keep doing what is going well and correct what needs improvements with great feedback.

Do You Focus On Failure More Than Success?

I have a question for you – what are you good at? With this blog’s focus on parenting, I could rephrase it to ask, what makes you a good parent?

You know what would be easier questions – what are you NOT good at – and how are you NOT a great parent? See, our world is quick to point out what it thinks is wrong with us. We know the answers to these more than to the earlier questions.

We focus on failure

In fact, this focus on failure is so prevalent that it now frames much of how we think. In the workplace, the annual review rarely starts with your successes – it jumps to your weaknesses and failures. At home, if you were to track what you say to your kids for just one day, your would see that most of it would likely be critical or corrective. We are just in the mindset that we are here to notice and fix our and their weaknesses and failures – and that we do others in our lives a great service when we point these out to them.

So here’s the problem. This creates a pretty critical vocabulary in our conversation with ourselves and others. Since what we focus on grows, the more we tune in to what isn’t right, the more we see what isn’t right and we miss what is right. We miss the opportunities to applaud successes, encourage effort, support discovery and inspire engagement. We are cheap with praise – with ourselves and with others.

Don’t try this but it makes my point

Let me share a workplace story that has application everywhere. In one of my roles during my career, I headed up an education department for a great company. My department took off – it took on great challenges, built sound education and changed many employees. Not once in the couple of years it took to do all this did my manager ever say “Thank you,” “Good job,” or “Nice going.” Frustrated, I delivered what could only be known as a career limiting move, when I said to my manager (okay – I don’t recommend this), “I think you have only 5 thank yous left in you before you die and you are afraid to waste one on me….” Well, I didn’t lose my job, but I did hear a little about respect. I earned that one.

But the meaning was that it didn’t occur to my manager to notice our successes – his mindset was that if things are working fine, that is how they should be – and no comment is necessary; he believed he should only watch for failures and challenges. With this thinking, he missed the successes – the things that we should always do more of. Remember this: what gets noticed and applauded, gets repeated.

Watch for successes

So, what are you great at and how are you a great parent? And since we are talking about this, how are you helping your kids focus on what they are great at, instead of regularly reminding them of what isn’t quite right about them?

Each of us is a work in process; we learn as we go. That learning should include learning about our successes, not just our failures. Our constant focus on failures and fixing weaknesses becomes the negative yack we play in our heads, and someday, it becomes the way our kids parent their kids – fix, correct, improve, find the negative, find the faults. Blah, blah, blah. Who can blame our kids for not listening to us if this is the primary communication they get from us?

This doesn’t mean only give your kids praise – you know, the “every kid gets a trophy” syndrome. It does however remind us that life is about learning – building on the successes AND learning from the failures. Both teach us about us and our kids. We should regularly notice and applaud true and legitimate successes with the same energy we focus on correcting weaknesses. This will set up both you and your kids to be able to answer the question, “What am I really good at?” And with that information, you’ll both know how to be ready for life.