Have you ever received unsolicited feedback? If you are a living, breathing human who interacts with real people (or internet trolls), I’m sure you have! Recently a friend of my received some unsolicited feedback that was so rude it was shocking to her, and to me when she retold me the story. It made me think about times I have received feedback that was unwanted. This can happen for a variety of reasons. Today I’m reflecting on this, because as an instructional coach I find giving relevant and purposeful feedback valuable, and a critical role of a coach. However, if that feedback is unsolicited, it may not be well received.
Here are a few instances I can think of when unsolicited feedback was unnecessary:
- As a principal, I once had a sassy Kindergarten student come up to me during her recess. She looked me up and down and said, “That is the ugliest outfit I have ever seen.” Now, I was both shocked and amused by this, coming from a 5 year old. However, I contained my giggle and I used this as an opportunity to talk to her about speaking respectfully to people. [And to her credit, it was not one of my finer outfits!]
- “You look tired.” This statement is such an insult to me. When someone says it, I assume that they mean I don’t look good. What they might mean, is that I don’t look like myself and they are concerned. The truth is, I might be tired, or I might be battling an illness, or I might be going through a rough time, I might have stayed up late finishing a good book or binging a good show, or I might have decided to skip the make-up routine that morning. No matter what, if it’s not a close friend showing genuine concern for me, this statement is a loaded insult. I recommend we avoid giving unsolicited feedback about looks in general, especially if it’s not so positive.
- “Have you lost weight?” This may be controversial, but weight is another area where people often given unsolicited feedback. As someone who has gained and lost the same X number of pounds many times over my lifetime, questions about weight, even when framed as a compliment, are triggering. What do you say? Yes, thanks for noticing. No, I’m just wearing the right size pants today. Yes, but it’s a daily struggle and I’ve lost a lot before you finally noticed. No, I’m wearing 5 pair of Spanx and I’m sucking it all in.
- “What was going on in your classroom today? It sounded out of control!” Transitioning into education talk, this kind of feedback happens often in a school. We walk by a colleague’s classroom, or we happen to share a wall with someone, so we make assumptions about what is going on inside without knowing all of the information. On more than one occasion, someone heard noise coming from my classroom and expressed concern that I didn’t have control. As a new teacher, I didn’t even know how to address this concern. My class wasn’t out of control. They were ENGAGED! It wasn’t until I stepped out of my own classroom and began to visit other rooms that I realized how silent many of my peers’ classrooms were all day long.
All of these examples make me reflect on how important it is to provide SOLICITED feedback. For instructional coaches, this is a learning process. Each teacher you work with may prefer feedback in a different format. And there are some teachers who don’t want feedback from you… yet! This is why I stress the importance of building trusting relationships before moving into a coaching role. As you get to know a teacher, you can begin to see his or her strengths. From there, you can begin to learn what his or her professional goals are and how you might support them. Coaching that involves observation and feedback can come next, especially when the teacher is asking you for feedback based on his or her goals.
I will add the caveat hear that as an administrator, there may come a time when you do have to give someone unsolicited feedback. This may be following egregious behavior, or the endangerment of students. That is your job and at that point, it is necessary whether the person wants the feedback or not. However, the stronger your relationship is with that person prior to such an incident, the easier that difficult conversation will be for both of you.
What are your thoughts on feedback, both unsolicited and desired?
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The first point that I try to consider when offering feedback is “what is opinion and what is fact?” I believe this is important, because (in my opinion) humans often tend to confuse facts with opinions, which leads to us offering our opinions as “the truth”. If I was offering feedback, I would be clear on the facts, and I would own my opinions as opinions, perhaps by first creating a space of permission in which to share them. Also, a question that I tend to ask myself before offering an opinion is “For the sake of what do I want to share this opinion?” If I think my reasons are going to serve the situation, then I will share it the opinion. If the reasons are not based on serving the situation, I won’t share. When receiving opinions, I think a useful point to remember is that we can choose the level of authority that we give to the opinions of others because they are an opinion, and not a fact.
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