It is descriptive rather than evaluative. By describing one’s own reactions, it leaves the individual free to use it or not to use it as they see fit. By avoiding evaluative language, it reduces the need for the individual to respond defensively.
It is specific rather than general. To be told that one is “dominating” will probably not be as useful as to be told that “in the conversation that just took place, you did not appear to be listening to what others were saying, and I felt forced to accept your arguments.”
It is focused on behavior rather than on the person. It is important that we refer to what a person does rather than to who we think or imagine they are. Thus, we might say that a person “talked more than anyone else in this meeting” rather than that they are a “loud-mouth.” The former allows for the possibility of change: the latter implies a fixed personality trait.
It takes into account the needs of both the receiver and giver of feedback. Feedback can be destructive when it serves only our own needs and fails to consider the needs of the person on the receiving end. It should be given to help, not to hurt. We too often give feedback because it makes us feel better or gives us a psychological advantage.
It is directed toward behavior, which the receiver can do something about. Frustration is only increased when a person is reminded of some shortcoming over which they have no control.
It is solicited rather than imposed. Feedback is most useful when the receiver has formulated the kind of question which those observing can answer, or when they actively seek feedback.
It is well-timed. In general, feedback is most useful at the earliest opportunity after the given behavior (depending, of course, on the person’s readiness to hear it, support available from others, and so forth). The reception and use of feedback involves many possible emotional reactions. Excellent feedback presented at an inappropriate time may do more harm than good.
It involves sharing of information rather than giving advice. By sharing information, we leave a person free to decide for themselves, in accordance with their own goals and needs. When we give advice, we tell them what to do, and to some degree take away their freedom to decide for themselves.
It involves the amount of information the receiver can use rather than the amount we would like to give. To overload a person with feedback is to reduce the possibility that they may be able to use what they receive effectively. When we give more than can be used, we are more often than not satisfying some need of our own rather than helping the other person.
It concerns what is said and done, or how, not why. The “why” takes us from the observable to the inferred and involves assumptions regarding motive or intent. Telling a person what their motivations or intentions are more often than not tends to result in a defensive response. (Adapted from: Berquist & Phillips, A Handbook for Faculty Development, 1975)