You can hardly overdo positive (reinforcing) feedback. If you give people critical (formative) feedback, even just a little can discourage or bruise them. So, in the formative feedback you offer, pick the areas where they’re headed for trouble, and do warn them. Otherwise, choose as your coaching tool the style of positive affirmation.
I went into one church that post-mortems on every event. The staff documented all the things that went wrong so they could be corrected next time: here is the event; here’s what we did; and here’s what went wrong; here’s what we’ve got to do to avoid it next time. Predictably, these staff pastors were discouraged.
My suggestion was this: “Re-specify your debriefings. Instead, list ten things that worked exceedingly well, list three things that you want to do different or better next time, and then close the folder.”
The change in attitude toward their work was enormous. Previously, they had been driven by perfectionism to confess things that weren’t even sins. Now they were beginning to discover that doing things right is a far less important factor than doing the right things. Anything worth doing is worth doing imperfectly.
Here are two important questions to ask anyone in giving him or her feedback. These questions are good over and over again when you’re coaching people.
- What are you trying to do?
- How are you getting in your own way?
In order to keep people aware of the fact that their decisions and their activity are the things that make the difference, don’t ask them what obstacles and challenges they’re facing. Instead, say, “How are you getting in your own way in what you’re trying to do?” In other words, “What are you doing to hinder yourself?” In that way you are helping people take greater responsibility for their own behavior.