How Not to Initiate Feedback

The following is an example of how not to initiate feedback:

“Can I be honest with you?”


“I think you bombed your presentation. What happened?”

I can’t remember if the term bombed was actually used, but the implication was along those lines. No matter what language was used, a “you” statement definitely made an appearance in this feedback initiation.

So, after hearing this, do you think I felt willing to explore how I could have done better at my KOTESOL presentation last Saturday? Absolutely not.

In the last few weeks of our training program, I have been trying my best to convey this to my participants. Next week they will be starting their micro-teaching sessions. They will be observing their peers teach a language lesson, and will also need to provide feedback on that lesson. As you can imagine, participants feel extremely vulnerable and sensitive about being under the spotlight.

In order to help cushion the emotional impact of the feedback, I have been teaching them how to give it. Included in my advice is: be specific, and use “I” statements.

In order to help them understand this pattern, I help them experience the opposite. I give them a handout titled, Observation vs. Evaluation: Creating a Supportive Atmosphere. Here is an example of what is on the handout:

Your instructions were confusing.

This is intended to be an evaluation instead of an observation. In my experience, an observation is specific and clearly observable, indicated by perhaps using verbs such as see, hear, do, and notice.

I then ask my participants to share how they would feel if they received this kind of feedback. Common answers are:

confused, embarrassed, upset, disappointed

Then I elicit why they think they feel this way. They share with me that they aren’t sure what instructions the “feedbacker” is referring to. During a lesson we give many instructions. The above feedback could instigate the following thoughts:

Confused: “What is he/she talking about? I think I gave great instructions. When weren’t they clear?

Embarrassed: “I must have made a fool of myself up there. I never want to do that again.”

Upset: “I’d like to see him/her do a better job!”

Disappointed: “I’m such a bad teacher.”

Each of these thoughts creates a block. If I hear this, I am no longer interested in hearing what the feedbacker has to say.

So what can we do? Here is how you might get around this. Be specific and speak from the “I” instead of the “you”:

During the second activity, I felt a bit confused because I didn’t understand what I had to do.

This person is now helping me recall the exact moment, and I can make my own observation of my instructions. With the feedbacker’s prompting, I may remember that the instructions were not as clear as they could have been. Then by adding the “I” statement, I feel less judged. The person is taking ownership of what was going on for them at the moment.

Then if you think it’s time to offer a suggestion, you might say:

If you added a demonstration with the instructions, I may have understood more easily.

I’m not saying that the receiver will always love this kind of feedback, or that they will always be willing to listen, but I have a strong feeling that it will open up more doors than it will close.

Now back to my original feedback. Why wasn’t I willing to reflect with my feedback initiator? First of all, I felt extremely vulnerable. Although I didn’t think I had bombed, I felt disappointed with my presentation. So when I heard this person express their feelings in this way, I just locked up. I got defensive, and then I got emotional.

Although I said I was willing to listen to the feedback, I guess in some way I was expecting something said sensitively. I was expecting something specific and something that would lead me to my own conclusions.

I still need to time to reflect on my presentation, but I am happy that the feedback initiator gave me time to reflect on how I see feedback.

9 thoughts on “How Not to Initiate Feedback

  1. Great post. Sorry that you were bombarded by nay-sayers… as my mom would always tell me, “It has more to say about them than it does you”.

    I-statements yes indeed. It’s great if we can really develop that habit because it is so beneficial for these kinds of exchanges. MERCI Josette !


  2. I think your reaction to this particular matter is the essence of reflection, and you should be commended for openly sharing your feelings with us all. You are bold, brave and beautiful. No one can take that from you. Carry on, my friend and never, ever let the bastards get you down!


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