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Principles of giving effective feedback

Whether or not you use a practical model and are giving formal or informal feedback, a number of basic principles should be kept in mind.

  1. Give feedback when the learner is ready (this may be physically, practically or emotionally) so that they are likely to be receptive.
  2. Give feedback as soon after the event as possible, although for knowledge consolidation, a delay can be beneficial.
  3. Ask the learner how they think things went first; this will open the conversation and let you see how well the learner is judging their own performance.
  4. Focus on the positive first.
  5. Give feedback privately wherever possible, especially more negative feedback.
  6. Feedback needs to be part of the overall communication process and ‘developmental dialogue’. Use skills such as rapport or mirroring, developing respect and trust with the learner.
  7. Stay in the ‘here and now’ and on the observed task, don’t bring up old concerns or previous mistakes, unless this is to highlight a pattern of behaviours.
  8. Focus on behaviours that can be changed and the task itself, not personality traits.
  9. Talk about and describe specific behaviours, giving examples where possible and do not assume motives.
  10. Use ‘I’ and give your experience of the behaviour (‘When you said…, I thought that you were…’).
  11. When giving negative feedback, suggest alternative behaviours.
  12. Feedback is for the recipient, not the giver – be sensitive to the impact of your message.
  13. Consider the content of the message, the process of giving feedback and the congruence between your verbal and non-verbal messages.
  14. Encourage self-reflection. This will involve posing open questions such as:

    (a) Did it go as planned? If not, why not?
    (b) If you were doing it again what would you do the same next time and what would you do differently? Why?
    (c) How did you feel during the session? How would you feel about doing it again?
    (d) How do you think the patient felt? What makes you think that?
    (e) What did you learn from this session?

  15. Be clear about what you are giving feedback on and link this to the learner’s overall professional development and/or intended programme outcomes.
  16. Do not overload – identify two or three key messages that you summarise at the end.

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