Learn the Art of Giving and Receiving High-Quality Feedback

Online course series offers tools to provide feedback to your boss, your friends, your team, and even to yourself

Sean Corp, Content Strategist

Giving insightful feedback is hard, and providing critical feedback is scary. There is such a fear of judging and being judged that people often avoid feedback altogether, says Patrick Barry, who teaches the “vocabulary to talk about advocacy” at the University of Michigan Law School

At the same time, feedback is at the heart of development as students, professionals, and people. So why is there such a scarcity of quality feedback, and how can we increase the level of quality feedback? Barry, who serves as the director of digital academic initiatives and is a clinical assistant professor of law, has some ideas.

First, Barry says, we have to fight the urge to avoid giving feedback or providing vague feedback, which doesn't allow anybody to learn and advance. Barry calls this common situation a "feedback desert." 

"People rarely get quality feedback because nobody is taught how to provide useful feedback or how to effectively process the little feedback you do receive," Barry says. 

To help people solicit, deliver and interpret feedback, Barry created "Feedback Loops: How to Give & Receive High-Quality Feedback," a four-course series now available on Michigan Online and Coursera. Barry offers tools and techniques for four critical kinds of feedback. Vertical feedback, representing people above you like a boss. Horizontal feedback, which could be peer-to-peer or offered to a teammate, classmate or co-worker. There are also team feedback and self-feedback lessons. 

The course also features several modes of low-stakes practice, from written quizzes to a 360 interactive video experience allowing for public speaking practice in various virtual environments. 

Barry's approach to creating the course is similar to the feedback he always strives to provide -- for it to provide clarity and for it to be actionable for those on the receiving end. 

The course also teaches "feedback frameworks" because different situations call for different types of feedback. Personalities differ, there are time constraints, the stakes of a situation could dictate the kind of feedback that makes the most sense, and even the feedback format are all important factors, Barry says. 

One of the frameworks explored is the most direct. The "Keep/Cut" framework strives to remove ambiguity from the feedback process and ensure the person on the other end doesn't think it reflects character or value judgments. 

"Whether you keep a comma or cut a slide has very little bearing on your identity or core personality. The focus isn't on who you are or need to become. The focus is on steps you can use to improve."

While the "Keep/Cut" framework eliminates ambiguity, it is also a blunt instrument, Barry says. When more nuance and flexibility are appropriate, Barry introduces the "E-D-I-T" framework. 

This approach is modeled after a business evaluation tool popularized by Renee Mauborgne and Chan Kim and popularized in their book "Blue Ocean Strategy." The goal of Mauborgne's and Kim's framework was for businesses to target ways to reign in expenses and create new features.

Similarly, the E-D-I-T framework aims to provide a structured way to provide feedback through the potential benefits of adding, reducing, or making changes. 

E-D-I-T is a feedback framework that evaluates whether someone should Eliminate, Decrease, Increase or Try something. 

"There is rarely something, whether it be an email, a paper, a report, or a podcast, that wouldn't be improved by eliminating something," Barry says. "As Kim Scott said in her book, 'Radical Candor,' the goal is to get 'to the essence of the idea, which allows the recipient to absorb it quickly and easily.'"

Sometimes, though, the complete elimination of something is inappropriate or impossible. In that case, Barry turns to the Decrease phase, which is more measured and flexible. The Increase approach is about leveraging the best parts of what is being offered. Trying something new, meanwhile, is a way to encourage someone to step back and take a new approach or consider a new idea. 

The "Keep/Cut" and "E-D-I-T" frameworks are just two techniques Barry teaches learners in the four-course series. 

All courses are now available and free to University of Michigan students, staff, faculty and alumni. To learn more about the course and to enroll, visit the "Feedback Loops: How to Give & Receive High-Quality Feedback" page on Michigan Online.