Feedback: what’s the purpose?

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Brian Kight

Let's talk about giving feedback.

Rather than provide another list of tips, tactics, and techniques that only address surface issues, I'd like you to focus on intent and purpose.

  • What is your intent in giving feedback? Your state of mind that is informing your action.
  • What is your purpose for giving feedback? The objective and result you want to see from the feedback you provide.

I find it helps to clarify my intent and purpose – to myself – with two statements:

  1. "I'm giving this feedback because . . . (intent)."
  2. "With this feedback, I want the other person to . . . (purpose)."

You have a perspective. You want the other person to hear it. What do you expect them to do with it once they've heard it? What is the end objective? This is where people struggle in the feedback process, both giving and receiving.

There are four categories of objectives you can pursue when you give feedback:

  1. Create awareness: you only want them to know and understand. The rest is up to them.
  2. Make a request: you ask something of them which they are free to decide. Yes, no, something in-between, or something else entirely.
  3. Send a command: you provide a directive course of action you expect to see them take or standard you expect them to meet.
  4. Deliver an ultimatum: as a rare last resort, you force them to decide with clear and known consequences either way.

Feedback fails when you are unclear or unsure of the end objective. Either because the person won't know what to do or because they don't do what you expect of them.

If you're going to give feedback, formally or informally, it's your responsibility to establish and clarify your intent and purpose for the feedback before you enter the conversation.

You don't have to share your intent and purpose with the other person. It can help when you do, but at minimum, you must establish this clarity within yourself if you want to be understood, taken seriously, and good at feedback.

Answer the call. Do the work.

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