Constructive feedback – a lesson by the pool

My daughter Elizabeth was about 8 years old and we were having a lovely summer day at the pool.  I had a cold drink and a magazine and Elizabeth was working on her diving.  She said, “Mom, grade my dive.”  So, I watched her dive and said, “that’s fabulous.”  She said, “No, I mean give me a grade from 1-10.”   I could see that she wasn’t going to let up so I put my magazine down and said, “Okay, I give you a 6.”  I should have seen this coming, but she said, “Why a 6?”  So, I had to actually take the time to give her feedback — “You could work on pointing your toes and make sure you keep your legs together.”  This went on for about an hour and by the end of it, she had become a better diver.  It occurred to me that while I thought I was being a “supportive parent” by telling her that her dive was fabulous, I was missing the point.  She was looking for ways to improve her diving and all I wanted to do was give her hollow praise.   She wanted to know exactly what she needed to do to get better.  She taught me a valuable lesson.  The best way to offer constructive feedback is to let the person know which skills they need to develop (not what they’re doing wrong).  For example, it’s the difference between telling someone that they need be more “sensitive to others” and telling them that they need to work on their “empathy skills.”  When you focus your feedback on helping someone develop a skill that they’re lacking, it’s a much more positive and productive experience.

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