In a past blog I talked about why I thought the common “Praise Sandwich” was not a useful way of delivering feedback. In this post I’ll outline an alternative. An alternative not based on the “positive”/ “negative” feedback models of the past but rather one that is learner-led and based on improvement, personal reflection and consent. The model itself is based on two assumptions that must be considered for this model to work. They are:

Learners are self-directed

Assuming that learners are self-directed is about acknowledging that learners have choice. They can choose to accept your feedback or not. The decision about whether they act on your feedback is up to them. This choice, the learner’s self-direction, is what separates feedback from a directive. While the two are often confused, a directive is not feedback. Telling someone to do something, often with the implication of consequences, implies little self-direction from the learner.

Empowering learners with choice builds ownership and encourages responsibility. It empowers the learner to take on your feedback and find their own way. This, however, requires something from you as the deliverer of the feedback. It requires your feedback delivery to be persuasive, engaging and learner led. It requires you to build rapport with the learner so they trust you and trust your judgement.

Feedback is about improvement and improvement is positive

When I ask my students how they feel about getting better at something, how they feel about improving, what do you think they say? Of course, it’s the same thing you are probably saying, “I feel good about it”, “It’s a good thing”, they smile, they laugh, some of them think it’s a silly question but no one ever says “Hmmm, no, I like getting worse at everything I do”.

So when feedback is based on improving performance in a particular area, it’s positive. It comes from a transformational position rather than one that is transactional. Real feedback is delivered by people who are interested in the person’s development, they want the person to succeed and improve. Real feedback is delivered by people who are interested in building people up rather than putting them down. Real feedback comes from people who have good intentions.

Now that we have covered the assumptions that underpin the learner-led, improvement-centred model let’s take a quick look at two terms that are used in the model.

“Working Well”: This is the reinforcing feedback, the stuff the person should repeat and continue to do. It’s working well, it’s a strength.

“Do Differently”: This encompasses two different kinds of feedback, corrective and developmental:

  • Corrective feedback outlines those things that the person should change or stop doing. Usually it is the things the person is doing wrong and needs to change.
  • Developmental feedback is like a hybrid of corrective feedback and reinforcing feedback, it’s the two mixed together. It involves identifying what’s working well but also doing something differently. It’s like saying “you are doing xyz right, but if you alter this about your approach xyz will be 20% better”.

The Improvement Centred Feedback © Model


The model has five stages:

  1. Appreciation
  2. Reflection
  3. Permission
  4. Feedback
  5. Integration

Let’s look at each stage individually.

Appreciation: Thank the person for their efforts. Take a moment before you say anything to genuinely thank them for their efforts and input. Be genuine, pause and be sincere.

Reflection: Ask the person to reflect on their performance. Ask them what they thought worked well and what they would do differently next time. Importantly, ask them to start with what they thought worked well. In my experience people often start by taking about the things they didn’t do well. Starting in this place is not my personal preference. I like to start by celebrating what worked well and then looking at what needs to change.

Permission: Ask for permission to give feedback. This is the step most people miss. They give feedback without asking permission. Feedback that is sought is more likely to be listened to, adopted, and less likely to be challenged. The person should want your feedback and if they don’t want it why are you giving it? Feedback that is not wanted is a directive. There is nothing wrong with directives but they are different to feedback. Feedback is about choice and when people have choice they develop ownership, they feel empowered; a directive is a command or demand, it has a tendency to do the opposite.

Ask the person “Do you mind if I give you some feedback?”. I know what you are thinking, it’s what everyone thinks at first, “What if they say no?” It’s a good question, but consider this. In all the years I have been asking learners this question, to literally hundreds of students, only two have said no, and both of them just wanted to know how I would respond! How I respond is always the same, I say “Are you sure, it’s really good feedback!” It works. Besides, if the person respects your opinion won’t they want your feedback?

Feedback: Deliver the feedback in a conversational and friendly manner. Discuss what you thought worked well and what could be done differently. Invite the person to ask questions. Aim to give a variety of reinforcing, corrective and developmental feedback. Finish on the point you most want the person to go away and think about.

Integration: Like asking for permission, this step is often overlooked but it is an essential stage. This is where the learner internalises the feedback and commits to future action.

Firstly, ask the person if they thought your feedback was fair. Ask “was that some fair feedback?” Ask what point resonates the most with them what part of the feedback they thought was most useful to them. This is a really important part of integration, asking the learner what feedback was most relevant and applicable to them. They might say “I think I really need to work on my introductions, I have had this feedback before and hearing it from you has really highlighted that I need to work on it.” This integration allows you an opportunity to ask the learner how and when they will integrate and practice the new skill.

Depending on the context of the feedback you may choose to add a level of formality to this stage by documenting it. Formally documenting the commitments made in the integration stage can have real value and developing an action plan is a potential output of this stage.

So there you are, a learner-centred feedback model based on improvement, reflection and consent. Practice it during your next feedback session and let me know how you think it worked.

Key takeaways

  1. Reflect on how you currently approach feedback conversations and how you view them. Do you think of feedback as positive or negative?
  2. Begin asking students to reflect on their performance before you deliver your feedback
  3. Ask for permission before giving feedback
  4. Deliver feedback as what “worked well” and what could be “done differently”
  5. Don’t forget to ask how they will action on your feedback and look for real integration possibilities, not just intentions. The Improvement Centred © Feedback model is designed for results!

Tony Kirton is the founder of Engage Learning and Development an organisation committed to developing and delivering engaging learning programs that inspire behavioural change.

Contact Tony directly on 0497 686 242 or fill out the form below and we will get in touch.

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