Tailor criticism to people’s emotional states

We need to tailor our feedback to people’s emotional states.

At Make School I give students feedback on their resumes and cover letters. Before giving feedback, I first always take a pulse on their emotional state on a scale from -1 to 3.

If a student enters my office looking distraught (-1), I address their wellness and hear them out. Without addressing this, my feedback will fall on deaf ears and the student will leave discouraged. I need to get them back to level ground.

If the student seems a bit insecure our unsure (0), I recommend that we first discuss and fine-tune their approach to the project. By affirming their approach, they gain confidence for their execution. Insecurities are minimized when the student realizes they are on the right track.

If they feel pretty good (1), I give standard feedback on how they can improve their material. I frame my feedback as “suggestions” and “something to consider” as a way to demonstrate confidence in their ability to make the ultimate decisions. I’m also sure to emphasize the strengths of their work.

If they look confident (2), I make my suggestions more direct and spend less time on encouragement. 

If they look very confident and under challenged (3), I give feedback and then focus our conversation on how they can accelerate their learning, whether through research or getting a mentor with skills beyond mine.

My job is more than helping them improve their content. It’s also to help them grow their confidence. Managers must ask, will people leave the meeting encouraged, empowered, inspired? Or will they feel at fault and guilty for doing a bad job?

Feedback should be given with the goals of delivering content and cultivating the confidence of the recipient.

See sample scripts on how to have these conversations.