The Gift of Feedback

I am a Toastmaster and I have discovered that it is a great organization for developing leadership skills as well as speaking skills.

One of the most powerful tools a leader or manager has is the ability to deliver feedback that helps the employee improve; while not discouraging them. If you have experience in managing people you recognize the dilemma. You see Steve showing up on a sales call and telling the story without conducting good Discovery.  As you provide feedback you notice that Steve crosses his arms and you can watch him check out.

You want to help. You know that if he can get the Discovery process down you both can experience success.  But he stopped listening and did not want to hear the criticism or feedback. Criticism is hard, it is painful and it can feel like rejection.

My friend Maurice Stouse (a fellow Toastmaster) used to say, “Evaluations [Criticism] is the gift of feedback. And there is a way to deliver feedback that makes it easier to hear the difficult portions while assimilating the message for improvement

In Toastmasters we tend to follow a formula that points out what Steve did well. 1) He covered the strengths and benefits of working with the firm really well.  He was articulate and prepared for objections and like all good sales professionals he asked for the next step.  2) What would make him more effective would be to open with some questions to set the table and then to explore the buyers current situation and the gap between that and their desired situation. Maybe ask what has prevented them from getting to the desired state. 3) He did a great job of summarizing the presentation and asking for the business.

Some call this formula “the sandwich”. By recognizing and valuing what Steve brings to the table and then offering feedback that is a bit critical (and importantly that demonstrates a better behavior); we make it easier for Steve to hear and assimilate the feedback.

I have watched this formula transform trembling Toastmasters into polished speakers and Leaders. I have been fortunate enough to work with leaders that are able to demonstrate the gift of feedback and develop super performing teams.

As managers and leaders are you criticizing or are you helping your team, develop through the gift of feedback?


  1. Thanks for the article, seems like I always like your comments on Facebook.

    As far as Toastmasters, structured feedback can work in the meeting, everyone understands what’s going on. But seems manipulative outside that environment. I don’t want anyone counting my ahs. Life is not, thank God, a Toastmasters meeting. You asked for it.

  2. John Thanks for the comments and “feedback”. I understand your comments on counting Ahhs out in the world. They can be distracting from ones message so it is good to be aware of them.

    And that brings us to your concern that feedback as I described it may be manipulative. May I ask a question? Why do we communicate?  Sure we communicate to build relationships, to share a moment and to just be with someone. But most communication is designed to influence someone.

    If our goals are to influence (in the example to be a better speaker or a better sales exec) then doesn’t it help us to have tools that allow those messages to be received, heard and acted upon? Saying that deploying developed communication skills is manipulative is like saying that the athlete that learned a new move is manipulative.  I always check my intentions. Am I manipulating just to win or am I trying to provide real value?

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