Criticism and compliments: Rudy Miick FCSI on the science of feedback

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In this latest instalment of his column series for Foodservice Consultant, the Colorado-based MAS consultant outlines how managing the feedback process with clients and staff determines outcomes

As consultants we provide solutions for a living. Our solutions show up as ideas, offers, as plans, systems, or all the above. We live on feedback, given or received.

Most of us have been coached long ago to be okay with “constructive criticism.” We’re told, “Don’t take it personally.” Compliments, are shrugged off, humbly accepted. In either case, negative or positive, we’re given another piece of advise: “Toughen up!”

Like technology impacts equipment improvements, we’ve got new options for old habits. There’s undeniable science from brain physiology and anatomy that we can take human performance further, faster, with far less angst or drama. This opportunity is a choice.

The science: 

Two naturally occurring human hormones dance back and forth like a fulcrum. Cortisol, considered a natural stress hormone, is released during negative emotions, anxiety, panic, and shock. From the same base molecular structure, we also produce a “happy” hormone, DHEA. Bonus. As levels of DHEA go up, highest level brain AND motor functions occur.

The challenge of tradition:

Compliments are nice to hear, “Sally, great job!”

The challenge with compliments is they’re hard to replicate or train. What did Sally do that was great? The intention is lovely, a compliment. However, the impact becomes a challenge for both Sally or any person being “coached.” Sally performed five to 50 behaviors to get her “compliment.” As someone being trained, I am likely to ask, of everything I witnessed, which behavior am I supposed to replicate?

Criticism, verbal or non-verbal, is worse. Both drive Cortisol levels up. There is impact from a frown, an eyeroll.   We’ve all experienced the groan from a manager as they walk away; it’s painful and depressing, no matter how tough we pretend to be. 

The opportunity: Feedback as a system

Replace compliments and criticism with feedback.   Absolutely lose the compliment sandwich, that is, “good news/bad news/good news.”

What’s the difference?

Think of feedback as behavior based. Remember Sally’s compliment, “Doing a great job!” Feedback takes Sally’s compliment and turns it into trainable bits of data:

  • “Your report was less than 2 pages long as requested and was delivered as scheduled.”
  • “Sally reached out three times to clarify goals and the project timeline.”
  • “When Sally ask me questions, she makes direct eye contact.”

The science of feedback

To raise DHEA levels of any team member, ask the person’s experience first. I do this with two short questions:

  1. What’s one action you did well?
  2. To take your performance further next time, what’s one action you’d do differently?

Asking the client or team member these two questions, achieves three outcomes:

  1. I listen first, and pay attention, this experience of being heard increases DHEA and confidence.
  2. Hearing from my client/team first allows me to see what they’re thinking as a top of list topic compared to what I observed as top.
  3. I get to build on their observation and celebrate their own awareness as opposed to lecturing.

With the person’s response given to questions 1. and 2., build on what they shared with your experience:

  • What I thought you did really well is, “X”
  • And, to take your performance further, do “X”.

These comments create what I call a “Feedback Loop. Increase DHEA, outcome: speed and retention of learning. We teach our whole team and our clients to use the feedback loop with any new learning. Practice and stay positive.

For more go to; ©2012 The Miick Feedback System

Your questions or comments are welcome!  Please be in touch!

  Rudy Miick, FCSI, CMC®: