Friday, April 9, 2010

"Case Study – Is It Constructive or Negative Feedback?" - Prof.M.S.Rao

Ken and Ben were trainers and conducted training program together. Ben observed training program given by Ken. After completion of the training program, they had the below conversation while driving back to their home.

Ben: You want to be goody-goody with your participants.
Ken: What do you mean by that?
Ben: You want to be friendlier with your participants.
Ken: To make participants comfortable, it is desirable to talk to them and make them comfortable. I was doing the same. Of course, being good and friendly is not bad, right!
Ben: Don’t be too much attached with your participants. Do your job and get out.
Ken: Yes, we have to do our job well. That is the prime motive. It is essential to be friendlier to ensure effective takeaways. If you are amicable and cordial with your participants you can touch them and make a difference. And, of course, I also take informal feedback from them by conversing with them which, probably, the participants might not know and I improve a lot from their informal feedback.
Ben: When I was training senior executives, there was a guy who was funny with others. I pointed out and corrected in front of all. I made fun of him. All participants laughed and enjoyed.
Ken: Was that the correct way to give feedback by making the senior executive as a laughing stock in front of all?
Ben: That is how you need to treat some people. And if you are friendly you cannot correct participants.
Ken: I don’t think so.

Ben: I think you don’t speak with convictions?
Ken: I didn’t understand. Could you be more specific?
Ben: During training program, you did not speak with force. That means your convictions were not strong.
Ken: Is it?
Ben: Yes

Ben: Another thing, I observed, sometimes you shoot questions with your participants such as ‘did you understand?’ That means do you doubt the understanding capacity of your participants? That is not good.
Ken: Yes, sometimes I shoot such close ended questions to get feedback from my participants whether I am reaching them or not during training programs? It is not exactly testing their competency level to understand my content. In any presentation, I shoot such questions to know their pulse and to get their attention to the training process. Especially I shoot such questions when I find unfavorable vibes from the participants. If I don’t get favorable response, then I shift my training methodology and strategy towards more interaction rather than delivering lecture. It was a strategy I adopt to get my participants back to the track of training process.

Ben: You get defensive. Don’t do that.
Ken: Are you sure? If it so, then I need to change my strategy. Could you cite an incident where I got defensive?
Ben: During the case study discussion, one participant was highlighting only problem. However you insisted on solutions.
Ken: Yes, people, in general, focus on issues and individuals. However I believe in focusing on ideas. That was the reason. Besides, I wanted to grill the participant so that he could come out with more innovative ideas towards solving the issue rather than brooding over the issue. And you have seen him coming with more ideas subsequently.

By the time, the car reached Ken’s residence. Ken came out of the car and thanked Ben for the feedback and also for dropping him at his residence. He found that there was authenticity in few questions and decided to bring behavioral improvements and threw other questions into dust bin that did not have any validity and relevance.

Questions to ponder:

How far Ben was justified in giving feedback?
Could anybody give feedback without asking?
Was Ben biased in giving feedback?
What will you do if you were in the shoes of Ken?
Could Ben have given better feedback?
Was it constructive or negative feedback?

Solution to Case Study

Only competent people can feedback. It is not desirable to give feedback when the other person has not asked for it.

Ken was a good listener without any excessive ego. He listened to Ben patiently. It means he wanted to grow. Ken had humility to receive feedback. He did not get defensive. Ben was objective and specific in giving feedback. However there was little bias in giving feedback wherein Ben demonstrated his superiority complex over Ken which the latter realized but did not express it openly as Ken believed in preserving relations with others. Besides, Ben should learn how to give sandwich feedback. Sandwich feedback is all about giving positive compliment first then insert the area where behavioral changes have to be made (that is constructive feedback) and conclude with positive compliment so that the receiver does mind and would appreciate feedback.

A feedback is said to be negative when it covers only with negative intentions and elements without taking the positive actions of an individual into account. In contrast, a feedback is said to be positive when it covers only the positive intentions and elements without taking negative actions of an individual. A constructive feedback is the blend of both positive and negative elements and actions of an individual without any fear or favor. It is objective, specific, and precise and it focuses only on the issues not on the individuals to bring out behavioral improvement among the individuals. Precisely, constructive feedback attacks only the behaviour of the individual but not the individual.

It seems Ben gave only negative feedback as he did not focus on the positive actions and aspects of Ken during the training program, probably because of his excessive egoism. Ken realized the intentions and motives behind Ben but kept quiet as he did not want to break his relations with Ben. However, Ken should have been more assertive rather than passive by keeping quiet to the comments of Ben.


Continuous feedback is essential to grow as a successful person because nobody knows clearly how others perceive them. Besides, many people don’t know about themselves.

The objective of any feedback is to improve the person. It should not be personal but professional. It is essential to separate the issues from individuals for effective feedback. Attack the issue, not the individual while giving feedback. If you attack the individual it becomes personal and the feedback will not have any significance. Besides, the other person gets defensive leading to strained relations.

Above all, giving feedback is highly challenging. Always give sandwich feedback and constructive feedback for bringing out behavioral improvement and maintaining better interpersonal relations with others.

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