On April 8, The Bob Edwards Show on Sirius XM Public Radio featured an interview with Doug Stone and Sheila Heen, authors of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well. This pair of Harvard professors, also authors of the best-selling Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, have worked with corporations and organizations all over the globe. They’ve learned that team members at every level don’t do very well with either giving or receiving feedback. As a result, the feedback process becomes a dreaded and ineffective exercise for all concerned.
Stone and Heen have identified three components that are essential for effective feedback: appreciation, mentoring or coaching, and evaluation. Their comments prompted me to think about how I handle the feedback that I offer my students. If I become more adept in offering the three elements of feedback, can I enhance their learning experience?
Everyone needs and likes to feel appreciated. Stone and Heen note that the number one reason that employees leave an organization is feeling that their work is not appreciated. While students are not our employees, we instructors are their de facto supervisors while they’re in our classes. We may perceive a lack of appreciation on our students’ part for the valuable educational services that we’re offering every day, but I wonder if the students also feel undervalued. After all, if no one shows up to learn, we’re literally out of business.
I ask a lot of my students, and I make no apologies for that. But I need to acknowledge that the 135 minutes of their time that they give me four days a week are valuable to them and to me. I can thank them for coming to class, for paying attention, for contributing to the discussion, for challenging me to learn, for helping to correct my errors, for making me laugh, for keeping me abreast of the latest trends in pop culture, for giving me faith that the world will go on long after I’m gone. The list could probably be much longer.
I can also coax them to offer appreciation to themselves and to one another. As we pass around the “brilliant student” badge during class, I help them to see that every classmate can help them learn. Students have opportunities to acknowledge colleagues who help them master challenging concepts during peer tutoring. We pause after reviewing difficult material to take a breath and literally “pat ourselves on the back” for seeing a tough task through.
A final note: appreciation is most effective when it is specific. It’s great to receive an email from a former student thanking me for all that they learned in my class. Better still is hearing from a student who used a particular lesson in a special way in their subsequent classes or career.
Now that’s the kind of appreciation that gets me out of bed and off to class every day.
If you’d like to hear Ross Reynolds’ brief (12:46) interview with Stone and Heen, click here.
Or check out a bit of their longer Google talk below: