Failure into Feedback The XFactor Problem

Hey have you ever watched XFactor or American Idol or some such similar programmes? You know right at the start they have the auditions, and you see all the people lining up, nervous, calm, exuberant, CoolCalmCollected and then……they’re interviewed – and you just know ‘oh dear this one ain’t gonna go well’, ‘they’re overconfident, dressed badly, way too much self-belief’ etc etc etc


But – hey,It’s not their fault is it? I mean really is it? Because for a long time they’ve been given the support and feedback from their well intentioned friends and family that, ‘bless’, just don’t want to give them the hard honest truth. And can you blame them? No not at all. They wish them the best and want to help them have a better life and succeed in whatever they’re doing.

BUT —– they just can’t bring themselves to give honest feedback can they?

And in some cases they really do think their best friend or son/daughter is the next Beyonce or George Michael. However, invariably what happens is that they’re so shot full of self-confidence and on an atmospheric high that when they get in front of the judges and perform, the reaction that we see as viewers from the judges just tells the story from beginning to end…

…the high quickly becomes a spinning-downer and they drop faster than a meteorite to crash and burn with tears that make Noah’s great flood look like a puddle in the Sahara Desert.

So how do we TRULY give honest feedback that helps!

Because what you don’t want to do by giving feedback is –

a) For someone to stop doing what they love
b) Ego’s and self-confidence to rule under performance in skill
c) To lie just to support them because you care
d) For them to crash and burn when the truth hits them
e) For them to hopelessly carry on with rose tinted glasses believing that they have the skills to match their belief

(and hey let’s face it, in the work environment overconfidence and self-belief without the consummate skills is just a disaster waiting to happen, and I’ve seen this all too often in middle management upwards.)

SO —-

How do you give HIGH Quality feedback where you can –

  • Tell the truth
  • Be honest to yourself
  • Help them because you care and care enough for them to succeed
  • Provide useful feedback that helps improve skill and performance first, belief and self-confidence as a consequence to the former?

This is how.

But before we get there; you may have come across the ‘feedback sandwich’. This is a technique in which you wish to give feedback (feedback being criticism most of the time!) and cushion the blow (hence the sandwich). This is how it’s done

  1. Say something sincerely that is nice and lovely
  2. Give the criticism, (I mean feedback!)
  3. Say something even lovelier and nicer that peps them up and leaves them on a high

OK – why doesn’t this work? – Because no matter how great the good news, bad news sticks! It does doesn’t it? Think about it, do newspapers print how lovely life is and what a great day it is and how wonderful our prime minister or president is…. Nah!!!! It’s all pretty much cr…py bad news. We don’t have The Good News Channel do we? Hey even when it’s sunny they’ll have to find bad news in it somewhere 🙂 Why because Bad News SELLS!

So How do you give High Quality Feedback?

Let me give you an example.

A friend of mine is an Opera Singer, she’s sung with the National Scottish Opera and is trained by one of the worlds leading voice tutors. She now offers voice coaching. She gets calls from people that want to learn and go on the XFactor. This is what she says she does.

When she tutors, she never, let me say that again NEVER refers to how good nor how bad they are as a singer. She NEVER praises WHO they are, i.e.
YOU sing really well. YOU’RE very good at this. YOU’VE learnt this song brilliantly. Well done YOU’RE great!

– instead she finds something that they DID do well in the song, some behaviour/action, note, phrase, tonality, breathing, posture, something that she actually observed or heard, and comments specifically on this. I.e. the comment is of praise, but it’s praise that a) she totally believes in (therefore it’s congruent, sincere and honest) b) its’ linked to observable behaviour, it can be verified by both parties c) it’s specific so that there’s no ambiguity in what she was referring to.

She then –

Offers feedback in HOW they can improve some other aspect of what they are doing. Again, this is observable behaviour.. She will provide a technique to help improve either how they breathe, their posture, the phrasing, pronunciation etc.

– again this is specific, detailed and linked to behaviour and actions not who they are. ie ‘oh yes YOU can learn to get better’ or ‘excellent, YOU’VE just got to try a little harder’

What does all of this mean?

1) Praise to Behaviour that is specific, will help the person to develop the experience of what they actually did well. They’ll go back in their minds and review what they did, so they’ll attempt to repeat and re-create the same performance (this is self-modelling). At an intuitive level they’ll create connections with what worked well and whereby the by-product of this is, they’ll focus more of their attention on what has worked and not on what didn’t, because their attention hadn’t been drawn to it. This in itself becomes a self re-enforcing feedback/forward loop.

2) The improvement stage is also linked to specific observable behaviour with techniques or steps to develop a precise piece of behaviour. This allows them to make an evaluation in relation to what they’ve already done well and then notice the difference (which is where the learning takes place) and learn between –

– what they’ve done well and what can be improved upon.


If ever you want to help someone again, do this –

a) Find something specific that you truthfully love what they’ve done. BE SPECIFIC even if it’s only one little thing. And then tell them what it is, and be specific and why you love it.
b) Find something that they can improve upon. BE SPECIFIC (you don’t have to do this step, only do this if you are giving feedback to help someone improve) and then…
c) Tell or Show them how they can improve upon that specific thing give them either a technique, steps, or demonstrate it yourself.

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