Giving feedback

Be ready to transform but do not provoke, illuminate the darkness of ignorance but do not blind. (Tao Te Ching, Verse 58)

Providing feedback is one of the mentor’s most important skills. Narrowly defined, it means replying to the mentee what s/he did in a specific situation. More broadly – and more usefully – defined, it includes highlighting the impact of what the mentee did. It also includes a discussion of what the mentee might do (even) better next time.

A few definitions:

  • Positive feedback applies to situations where the mentee did a good job. It consists of simple praise, but is even more powerfully reinforcing when the Mentor specifically highlights why or how the mentee did a good job.
  • Constructive feedback highlights how the mentee could do better next time. It needs to be delivered sensitively.
    • Use the AID mnemonics suggested in the next section
    • When describing the mentee’s actions, focus on specific observable facts (‘In the last presentation you did not fully address some of the follow up questions’), not assumed traits (‘you tend to be evasive’)
  • Negative feedback – i.e., merely replaying something that went wrong – is essentially destructive and is only used, usually by accident, to terminate friendships and marriages. It describes a perceived negative behaviour, without proposing a resolution (‘You’re always complaining’).

To provide a factual context for your discussion of how your mentee performed, you can of course refer to notes which you took at the time, replay a video (if the mentee had agreed to being videoed) or ask a third party to comment.

Actions, Impact, Desired outcome

There is more to mentoring than just give feedback; but feedback was, however, a critically important tool; and it’s difficult to generalise about how to do it well. Nevertheless, in providing feedback, ensure you address three topics, with the acronym AID to help you remember them:

A (Actions) The things that the mentee is doing well, or poorly, in the area under review
I (Impact) The effect these actions are having
D (Desired outcome) The ways in which the mentee could do things more effectively.

Feedback is no a one-time-action

Feedback is a process that requires constant attention. When something needs to be said, say it. People then know where they stand all the time and there are few surprises. Also, problems don’t get out of hand. This is not a once-a-year or a once-every-three-month event.

Tips on giving feedback

  • Prepare Your Comments You don’t want to read a script but you do need to be clear about you are going to say. This helps you stay on track and stick to the issues.
  • Be Specific Tell the person exactly what they need to improve on. This ensures that you stick to facts and there is less room for ambiguity.
  • Give the feedback person-to-person, not through messengers of technology. E-mail and voice mail don’t work for constructive feedback because they don’t allow live, two-way conversation to follow. Nor does the sincerity of the message come across as well, whether it’s positive or negative feedback. Talk one-on-one with people when giving feedback — most of them don’t bite
  • Provide context Talk about specific moments where you saw or noted something. Talk about actions, not what you believe were her/his intentions.
  • State the impact Tell them what happened when they made that action
  • End with next steps on how could they test other behaviors/actions next time.

A feedback model

  1. Observation — what was seen/what happened? This is a specific and factual description that is nonjudgmental. This is just how it is, and is formed from the Mentor’s view of the “act,” not the “actor.” For example, in each of the last two sessions John has not completed the actions he said he would.
  2. Preparation and opening statement —the first words spoken are the most important, so preparation and practice are crucial. To do this, you can write down an opening statement and practice saying it out loud. The opening statement should name the issue, and contain specific examples from the observations in Stage 1 that illustrate the matter at hand.
  3. Impact - describe the emotional and community impact that the issues cause for you or for other related people. What assumptions did you (or others) make as a result? How did you feel? What are the consequences? This is about bringing the mentor’s presence into the laboratory of learning, and the mentee speaking their truth and facing the facts.
    An example of an opening statement incorporating Stages 1, 2, and 3 is:
    You as a mentor: “Tasya, I want to raise with you the topic of your absence in the previous SUMO campaign that you’d mentioned to participate in. There were a few community members who reached out and showed their interest in the chat room to join. The local community might feel neglected when you don’t respond to their question. I wonder if you’re aware about this?”
  4. Invite input and listen now that you have shared their perception, there is the opportunity to explore the shared reality: “Is what I heard the same as what you said?” or “Did you intend what you said to be interpreted as I did?” A simple way of doing this is: “How do you see this?” “What is your take on this situation?” At this point, you rely on the skills of listening and powerful questions to dig for as full an understanding from the mentee’s perspective as possible. You can listen for words and tone and observes body language. Through paraphrasing, summarizing, and reflecting, you ensure that the mentee has been heard and their opinion acknowledged. This is an honest sharing of perceptions rather than an argument that needs to be won or a position that needs to be justified. Try your best to assume a nondefensive position and to detach from your personal interest in the situation.
  5. Reflection if this is a significant issue, then allow time for both parties to reflect; give it the “24-hour test.” Allow your mentee 24 hours to reflect and contemplate the matter rather than force a resolution. Often in the moment of feedback emotions can take over and may be too strong to allow clarity of thought. In a busy world we often rush quickly toward action that may not be best in the long term when navigating sensitive topics.
  6. Action what should be done? Feedback is only useful if it can be used to change something and so is future focused and constructive. If this isn’t the case, we question why the feedback has been provided and what motivated the intervention. A future focus can be achieved by simply asking: “What can you do to change this?” “How can we move forward from here given our new understanding?” “What is our new agreement and how will we honor this together?” The action may be agreed after a period of reflection.


To reflect on what you have just learned, we ask you to write a short

narrative reflecting on the learned material. The narrative shall be about your past/current experience on coaching. You can find all necessary information about this at If you don’t want to write a narrative at this point, you can also write a bigger one at the end of all learning modules.

Credit: material is adapted from here.

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