What’s the opposite of giving feedback?

I’m regularly both surprised and delighted by delegates on our courses. Occasionally, someone says or does something which stops me in my tracks – in a good way. An excellent example of this happened to me just recently.

Dr K was one of 16 delegates on a 2-day Teach the Teacher Course that I was leading. Around half-way through the second day, my impression was that he was quietly paying attention. However, it wasn’t easy to gauge what he was learning at this stage. He was happily participating in small group activities. But he preferred doing this with doctors that he knew well and he rarely contributed to discussions in the larger group. That’s ok. After all, we all have our preferences when it comes to learning. As a tutor, though, you always like evidence that your event is having a positive impact.

An important feature of our course structure is that each doctor has the opportunity to design and deliver a teaching session to their fellow delegates. Taking the role of teacher allows them to experiment, put teaching theory into practice and test out new ideas. The other delegates take on the role of learners for these sessions. This gives them the opportunity to experience different teaching styles and then practice giving feedback. Such sessions are always most effective when the doctors combine their personal ideas and creativity with the concepts explored during the course.

A killer question

When it came to Dr K’s turn, his subject was, “The role of feedback in learning.” We always emphasise that giving feedback is an essential skill for teachers to possess. It’s also vital for strong leadership, management and team communication. (For clarity, we are talking about face-to-face verbal feedback, rather than annual, anonymous digital messages). It’s easy to state the obvious with many topics. The real challenge is often bringing this idea to life. How do you take a well worn message, make people really think and make it hit home with relevance?

So, Dr K began with a simple question. “What is feedback? Can you give me a definition?” Delegates thought for a moment and offered their ideas. “Constructive criticism.” “Pointing out errors.” “Recognising what’s gone well.” “Raising awareness.” “Sharing your observations.” He then offered a dictionary definition. It was a reasonable, but unremarkable start. It was the follow up question that stopped everyone in their tracks.

“What’s the opposite of giving feedback?”

Reverse provocation

This curious question is an excellent example of “reverse provocation”. That’s where you approach something from a diametrically opposite stance from the norm. We often visit this idea during our Essentials of Medical Leadership and Management Course as a method to stimulate creative thinking. Consider the question “How can we get more of our patients to turn up on time for their appointments?” It’s probably been discussed so often that any improvement can seem hopeless. We’ve run dry when it comes to new ideas. So, what about reversing it? “How could we ensure that patients always turn up late for their appointments?” This pushes us to think from a fresh perspective. Creating a list of answers starts to generate the solutions. At the same time, it also helps to reinforce the importance of some points.

So, what is the opposite of giving feedback?

Well, I’m not sure I have one clear, simple answer to this question. Delegates on the course thought long and hard, then offered a few suggestions: “Silence.” “Holding back.” “Acceptance.” “Avoidance.” “Apathy.” “Reinforcement of unconscious incompetence.” Maybe the most insightful response was,”What I usually do!”

In many ways, the answer is less important than the thinking which the question generates. Ultimately, it leads us to think about why giving feedback is so important and why it’s essential that a great teacher can do it well.

So how would you describe the opposite of giving feedback? What are you doing to improve your skills?

Stephen McGuire – Managing Director