I had the opportunity this week to discuss the difference between praise and feedback with some educators and the powerful positive effects good feedback can have on adolescents; well, all of us really, as opposed to the limited benefits of praise.
At the beginning of our conversation many felt that praise was a good thing. And I agree, to an extent. Praise as a form of motivation and encouragement is great. Praise in the form of comments that reference personality and physical traits as well as praise that rates us as smarter, prettier, more gifted than others does not sit well with me. Why? These comments can predispose us to what Dr Caroline Dweck refers to as a fixed mindset. Meaning we can fall into the trap of believing we are so good, so clever, so whatever it is that we don’t need to improve, adjust, compromise, change in any way. In fact, to me, this type of praise is limiting and dangerous.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I like to be recognised for a job well done as do many others. I do however prefer this recognition to come in the form of constructive feedback. Feedback that takes the form of a statement highlighting what I have done well, areas that may require some work and ideas or suggestions on how to improve. Too stuffy, too formal? It is the most powerful way to provide feedback to children and adolescents that engages them in learning, that causes thinking and leads to improved outcomes. It encourages a growth mindset in our young people. Why can’t it work for all of us?
Granted I am a bit unusual and I recognise that I often walk to the beat of my own drum and hold views and ideals that swing way outside the boundaries of “normal” but I was intrigued by this way of offering feedback so I decided to try it out at the hairdressers. Yes, I raced off to the hairdresser this week to have my lucious grey locks camoflagued by my hairdresser who really is a magician with colour. Since my last visit she had hired a new apprentice and asked if I would be willing to be a guinea pig at the wash basin. I agreed. To be honest, she did I a pretty good job for a new apprentice. Only one eye socket became a small swimming pool and one ear filled with water during the process. Apart from these minor discomforts, which I have also suffered at the hands of stylists far more experienced, the procedure was rather pleasant. During the shampoo I sensed the apprentice was feeling a little unsure and uncomfortable when her movements felt awkward and lacked power. I asked her, if she was using her non dominant hand and she was. I suggested she try swapping hands and hold the hose with the left and use the right to wash. This felt better for both of us. At the end of the process I thanked her and told her she had done a good job in getting the temperature of the water right and that she had a great technique for massaging the scalp (I love a good head massage). I also suggested that she experiment with how she is standing at the basin so she can also identify which hand feels more comfortable to use for different procedures. I relayed that if she was comfortable the client would also be comfortable. I gave this feedback to my friend the magician when she asked how her new apprentice completed the task. Both were happy with the feedback. Both knew what was already good and an area to work on.
Too often I think, when we are asked for feedback, we either shy away from being truly honest or we point out only the negative. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been asked when dining out “How was your meal?”, “Iseverything’s okay here?” only to respond with “fine” for lack of an appropriate way to Say what i really mean. Couched this way; identifying the positives first and then suggesting areas improvements might be made could benefit not only the recipient but future clients, service and performance.
If you have children who are learning a new skill try out this form of feedback. It will boost their confidence, strengthen their resolve to keep trying as it clearly focuses their attention on how to improve while knowing they are doing well and are on track with certain aspects of the task, procedure or skill. It’s about developing a growth mindset, a willingness to continue to improve and to keep trying. It teaches us that effort leads to success and that success is not out of reach.
Just one caution – refrain from using the big “but”. ‘But’ negates all that comes before it. The only thing a person will hear is the negative and the well meaning feedback will be construed as criticism.
I’m off to the coffee shop and I’m hoping someone asks how my meal was today. 🙂