Guidelines for Giving and Receiving Feedback

Feedback is a tool to help people learn to perform better.  People rarely get as much helpful feedback as we need because giving and receiving feedback is often difficult and uncomfortable. Giving and receiving feedback may be particularly difficult when people do not know or trust each other well. If done well, it is a real gift even if (often especially when) it is difficult to hear. Ideally, the tone and substance of feedback should convey unquestioned respect for the recipient at the same time that it points out possibly problematic behaviors. Similarly, response to feedback should convey respect and appreciation for the comments and commenter even if one disagrees with the comments.

Feedback is not a statement of the general value or skill of the mediator, nor whether the observer likes or dislikes the mediator.  It is a report of perceptions of one trial. Moreover, it is a function of the observer’s perceptions and perceptual biases as well as the mediator’s behavior.  Thus it is not “reality,” only the observer’s reality of a single interaction.

This material was developed for mediators but could be used for feedback about many types of performance.

Receiving Feedback

  • Start the feedback process with the mediator stating his or her own observations before getting feedback from the parties.
  • Solicit feedback on specific areas you are interested in.  (“Did you feel I was favoring one party or the other?”)
  • Try on the feedback and try to make sense of it. Only later, if at all, should you justify or explain your intent, disagree with the feedback, or discount it. During this later phase, you might incorporate a statement of your intent in a question to see how well your tactic worked. (“I summarized Maria’s statements to convey that I understood what she really meant. Was that helpful or did that seem condescending?”)
  • Rephrase feedback to see if corresponds with what the observer perceived.  (“It sounded to Ron that I focused on the details of the damages and that interfered with analyzing the underlying issues.  Is that right?”)
  • Check out feedback from one observer to see if others perceived the same things.  (“Diane seemed to have a hard time understanding what I was saying.  Did anyone else feel that way?”)
  • State whether feedback was helpful or not.
  • Ask for more feedback if necessary.
  • Check if the feedback fits with your experience.

Giving Feedback

  • Start and end with positive feedback if possible.  Be direct, honest and also sensitive to the mediator’s feelings. “Critical” feedback should focus on how to improve the performance in the future rather than judging the overall value of the mediation or mediator.
  • Give feedback responding to mediator’s requests for feedback.
  • Provide specific observable data where possible.  (“When you discussed Ruth’s complaints, you started talking faster.”)
  • Include your experience.  (“I felt anxious when you asked Abdul why he didn’t stop manufacturing the product after receiving reports of injuries it caused.”)
  • Withhold judgments, interpretations, suggestions, and questions or defer them until after analyzing the interactions as described above.
  • Check if the mediator found the feedback helpful and/or wants more feedback.

This form was adapted from the mediation conflict analysis developed by Gary Friedman of the Center for Understanding in Conflict  http://understandinginconflict.org/ and reproduced with permission.  They retain the copyright despite the language below.