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The PIF - One Feedback Method to Rule Them All

Delivering bad news? Well, no one likes it…

And how about giving good news? And more specifically, good feedback? 

Hmm, if you ask me things can get a little uncomfortable there, too!

Whether you’re an employer, manager or coach, giving feedback to your team or client can be challenging, especially giving feedback effectively. Finding the right time, getting the tone right, no hard feelings... And most importantly, how do you know whether your feedback is working? Are you getting through to them? Are your team engaged, inspired, motivated?

Here at Totem, we’ve taken a closer look at the latest research in Self Determination Theory on the two leading scientifically proven feedback techniques. Namely, Promotion Orientated Feedback - sometimes also known as Descriptive Feedback, and Change Orientated Feedback. So, these two types of feedback of course revolve around either promoting or changing a targeted behaviour. However, giving feedback goes far beyond positive and negative. It’s not as simple as the good vs. the bad. When given effectively, feedback can be a powerful tool and force for change.

First up, Promotion Orientated Feedback, a.k.a. Descriptive Feedback

Promotion Orientated Feedback involves stating what you observed in order to show your approval or appreciation. It is descriptive and provides information. It is important to state what occurred and not skip straight to praising the recipient. This means that the recipient will observe what occurred in a positive light and in turn “praise” themselves. As a result, their emotions and performance will become less dependent on external influences.

Next, we look at Change Orientated Feedback

Where Promotion Orientated Feedback encourages desirable behaviours, Change Orientated Feedback suggests that well, changes need to be made!

If Change Orientated Feedback is indeed closest to our idea of giving negative or “bad” feedback, feedback with the aim of changing a targeted behaviour, why bother with it at all?

When faced with delivering “bad” news, people often find themselves distorting, delaying or withholding the message. However, research shows that Change Orientated Feedback is highly effective when delivered promptly, as well as privately and in a considerate tone, focusing attention on the task and not the person. Additionally, a choice of clear and attainable solutions should be offered. 

To date, the general consensus was that with regards to Self Determination Theory, the most effective methodology for delivering feedback is Promotion Orientated Feedback.

Change Orientated Feedback on the other hand was considered the less effective of the two and somewhat negative. Research now shows that Change Orientated Feedback, when delivered in the right way and in an environment where autonomy is supported, can in fact be more effective, with the method of delivery and overall environment being more important than the feedback itself. 

Motivation can result from being informed and made aware of the discrepancies between actual and desired outcomes, have you ever stopped to consider that some team members are simply not aware they are not meeting expectations? Providing guidance on the changes that need to be made can instill the desire to perform better, with the team member consequently investing more of their time and energy. 

As human beings, we all have a universal desire for autonomy, whether at home, work or on the sports field.

Coaches and mentors, just like managers and employers, can shape their team members' and clients’ behaviour through the use of feedback, conveying information about how performance and behaviour measure up to expectations. Coaching behaviour and sports psychology are a science all of their own, and we want you to consider the concept of autonomy from the perspective of coaches and athletes in order to gain a deeper understanding of autonomy supportive behaviours. 

The PIF method

To have a sense of autonomy, team members and athletes alike must feel they are in charge of their own actions and that these actions are in line with their values. This can be achieved through offering choices (although still within the constructs of the workplace/competitive sports, we can of course make choices), opportunities to use your initiative (for instance, without consulting authority and being able to “just go for it”), justifying reasoning behind rules and regulations, as well as considering team members’ feelings.

Here are some examples of this.

  • Making Choices: Discussion between athlete and coach on future career trajectory, what their next steps should be, choosing between concepts within diet and exercise planning based on their personal opinion and experience (feelings), which goals to prioritize and why. 
  • Initiative: Although you probably have a pre-agreed “game plan”, situations will often arise that you didn’t anticipate in your coaching sessions. Trust your athlete/employee to make the call. Observe and appreciate their choice. 
  • Justification: It’s not enough to make constant, short and simple interjections. You must explain why things are the way they are, that research has shown it’s most effective to get your 90 lengths of the pool in at 5am after 12 hours of fasting, not just on your say-so! 

Beyond autonomy, we also harbour a universal desire for relatedness, the desire to feel connected to others, whether that’s our colleagues in the office or our team mates on the pitch, and competence, the desire to have a valuable impact on your surroundings - meeting targets or scoring goals!

So the bottom line is that when it comes to delivering feedback in relation to SDT, don’t assume that Promotion Orientated Feedback is the only option. Change Orientated Feedback, when delivered correctly, can be highly effective for achieving increased levels of motivation, well-being, performance and self-esteem as well as a marked decrease in amotivation.

At Totem, we’re all about bringing out the best in people - making them shine. Through our flagship product, Totem - the “Feel Good’ game, our relationship building card game, as well as our team building sessions delivered both in person and virtually, we’ve developed our very own feedback method. It falls somewhere between the two we’ve looked at today, with a unique twist.

Everything we do here at Totem is conducive to building an autonomy supportive environment at work and in our personal lives, where Change Orientated Feedback will be well received and have a positive impact. 

Positive Impactful Feedback Method

The Positive Impactful Feedback Method, or as we like to call it, the PIF, really is one feedback method to rule them all. Turn feedback upside down. Make people feel relieved. Let them know that they are enough. Allow me to explain. 

To illustrate this methodology, I want to tell you about a friend of mine, Simon. 

Simon’s Story

Out walking one day with my friend, Simon, we were deep in conversation when suddenly, it went quiet. I turned around, scanned the horizon and quickly spotted him (he is 6ft 5 after all!). Without so much as a word, Simon had taken several of his, albeit huge, strides, and rushed to the side of a little old lady, who he must have spotted out the very corner of his eye, despite us being in the middle of a conversation. He had helped her across the road gently, taking his time. I was moved, “What a great guy Simon is”, I thought to myself.

Now, before I learned more about PIF, I would probably have said something along the lines of, “Simon, you’re a great guy.”, “That was so nice of you.” or “You’re really kind.”. These are what we refer to as “tags”. Sure, they’re still compliments, but they don’t go deep, it’s easy for the receiver to simply shrug them off and forget about them making no real impact.

Following the Positive Impactful Feedback Method, my reaction would look something like this:

1. Step One: Observation/Facts

State the facts, simply state what you saw or heard. State what occurred. 

“Simon, you spotted that old lady on the other side of the street and you didn’t hesitate for a second, you went straight over to help her cross the street.”

2. Step Two: Strengths

What strengths were demonstrated? What is that person’s best self?

“Simon, you are clearly a really spontaneous person, I’ve never seen someone move so fast! And let me tell you something else, you are exceptionally empathetic, more so than the average person. That lady wasn’t asking for any help but you recognized that she was in need.”

3. Step Three: Your Appreciation

Say aloud which positive emotions it generates in you - and what you appreciate about that person’s strengths. 

“These days, everyone is so wrapped up in their own world, on their phones, but you had your eyes wide open ready to help someone else. I’m so grateful… No, wait... I’m proud, I’m proud to have friends like you in my inner circle. Stay true to yourself, don’t ever change.  Keep following your heart and acting without hesitation.”

Think of a time when someone surprised you showing their best self

How did you react? 

It’s never too late to tell them how it really made you feel, by using the Positive Impactful Feedback method. Try it!

These three steps will have an incredible impact on those around you.

Once you start and see the changes that occur, there’s really no going back.

Simply put, the more we are authentic and connected to our vulnerability, the more impact we will have on those around us.

Back to the most important question, and one we hear a lot during our team building activity, even from the most experienced of managers, how do I know if my feedback is working? If you have given feedback effectively, following our method, the person on the receiving end will be touched, moved, shaken up. However you describe it, you will have given them what we at Totem call, “a jolt”.

Like most things in life, it’s about quality over quantity. Delivering one small piece of feedback effectively will have a far greater impact than frequent interjections that don’t hit the mark. So, the bottom line is to give less feedback overall - but to make it count.

We all know that being an employer or manager means wearing many hats. Like it or not, bosses play a huge role in their employees' lives. Data shows that when people leave a job, they are often leaving due to workplace relationships and not the work itself. A manager or employer treads a fine line between being an authority figure, confidante, motivator and role model. A good manager must be skilled at their job, capable of training both new and existing employees, tactical, a good decision maker and future planner, all while being inspirational and motivational.

It’s a lot to deal with, and that’s why we want to help you make small changes that can be implemented on a daily basis, providing practical tools for creating autonomy-supportive working environments and positive psychological experiences for team members. Totem’s team building activity is beneficial whatever your role in the team is. By teaching everyone in the team about PIF the weight of giving positive feedback no longer falls solely on the manager’s shoulders.

At Totem, we’re all about making people feel good. Our flagship product, Totem - the “Feel Good’ Game, is centered around the Positive Impactful Feedback Method. Originally designed for use at home by families, couples and children of all ages, our very own dose of positivity in a box grew organically to being used in educational settings and the workplace, by groups large and small across all kinds of sectors and industries. Take a look at our testimonials, as our feedback truly speaks for itself. Many people find themselves moved to tears (the happy kind! And even on Zoom...), and complete the activity feeling engaged and reconnected, with a real sense of belonging. Want that for your team? Get in touch with us, here at Totem.

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