A wrong word and a conversation can escalate into a heated discussion – both at work and at home. As part of the MDP program for our top management talents, the participants got to know a tool that is easy to use and can be applied in many life situations: the STAR method. With this method, even harsh criticism can be communicated as constructively as possible.
More feedback please!
In the MDP we have found that none of the participants gives daily feedback to their colleagues or friends. Feedback is not to be equated with criticism, but can also simply be a positive confirmation of performance or even the desire for a different behaviour.
We are all quite quick to correct, evaluate or generally express our “opinion” here and there. And since we are all sensible and clever managers, this is OF COURSE always done for the best of all involved.
So a little more feedback can’t hurt, we thought. But do we really have to approach the whole subject in such a theoretical way?
Giving feedback within the team
Most of the participants wanted to give more feedback immediately and spontaneously, but not everyone felt comfortable doing so – especially with critical feedback. This is also because we ourselves are often not good at accepting negative feedback. And even the native feedback providers began to wonder whether a few rules here and there might still help to improve communication.
Our employees are usually very patient when it comes to accepting “bad” feedback (and that includes badly given positive feedback). It’s fantastic to have socially competent people in our teams who let us managers get away with a lot. Our potential for improvement in giving feedback is particularly evident when we face an environment where social control does not always work so well. Where people are closest to us – in the family.
A feedback example from real life
Let’s start with a common feedback. Who knows this: We come into the kitchen in the morning and our teenage child has not only spread everything out over a large area after his midnight snack, but has also simply left all perishable food sitting around – no longer usable.
Take a deep breath and address the matter professionally, i.e. in a calm tone, but with clear words, immediately. This requires quite a bit of parental composure and is certainly a brilliant feedback performance. As soon as the offspring comes in to the door while still half asleep, we will point out to them with friendly emphasis what has gone wrong here. What does the child do? Instead of thanking politely for this friendly (and repeated) feedback, we get a look that could kill and that’s it for the morning feedback round.
Whoops, what went wrong? All right, let’s go again. Positive feedback is a simple and straightforward matter and pleases everyone. An occasion will present itself immediately. The four-year-old daughter comes in the door with sleepy eyes, the hot-water bottle in her arms. She must have somehow managed to drag it down the very steep stairs of her bed, heaven knows how, so that mum doesn’t have to climb up (or send someone) to get it in the evening. Actually a bit breakneck, because she needs both hands for the descent, but what the heck. It’s the will that counts!
“I’m so glad you remembered, sweetheart. And all alone down the steep stairs. Mama is very, very proud of you.” There you go: An angelic, proud smile under big, happy eyes rewards us. The day can begin. The consequences of our (not quite thought-out) positive feedback are only apparent the next morning. With coffee in our hands we are standing relaxed in the kitchen, when a half angry, half desperate moaning starts in front of the door: “Open the door for me! I can’t come iiiiiiiiiiin!”
We hurry to the door. In front of it is the little girl with the hot-water bottle, a handful of hair rubbers, a cuddly toy AND the water bottle. Our hearts almost stop. How she made it down without breaking her neck will remain a mystery forever. We are greeted with a bright and hopeful smile. The look says: More feedback please! Well, this is not quite how we had imagined it.
Giving feedback using the STAR method
As for everything in life, there is theory and practice. And like everything in life: theory is often not so stupid.
If I try to criticize someone for an action, then I should not start the conversation by telling them that they have done something wrong. This is more likely to lead to defiant reactions and less to understanding and improvement. So what to do?
Our proposed solution: the STAR method. In the MDP, participants quickly became familiar with the idea and have successfully applied the method over the past few months – in both professional and private contexts. The capital letters represent the four essential components of positive feedback:
S for Situation
T for Task
A for Action
R for result
So in the feedback session I start with a short explanation of the situation and what the task was. Then I describe the action or action of the person and the result of it. You are welcome to try it out! Even in seemingly insignificant situations, whether with friends or family – positive feedback works.
For negative feedback the model is extended by an AR: STARAR. Here, the focus of the first AR (action and result) is placed on the actual action with possibly negative results. The last AR stands for Alternative Result – what the person should do differently to achieve a supposedly better result.
Most participants in the MDP have set themselves the goal of applying this methodology on a daily basis – to give at least ten positive feedbacks for every negative feedback.
Using the STARAR method in a job
An opportunity to apply the newly learned methodology soon arose in the job. In the context of a difficult topic, problems that had to be solved at short notice arose. However, the person in charge was not aware of the pressure of stakeholder expectations that was actually weighing on us. As a result, communication was lax in the appointments and no challenging deadline was set.
We sat down with the colleague for a personal meeting and used the STARAR method to describe the situation once again (S) and the task ahead (T). With his action (A), the colleague made the deadline a suboptimal result (R). If the deadline had focused more on urgency (A) and defined a clear timeframe, we would have been able to focus more on the next problem areas and satisfy the stakeholders (R). The colleague quickly understood this and with the help of short-term and challenging planning we were able to achieve results quickly.
Arne Schicketanz is Business Officer Information Management & Digitalization in the Systems division, residing in Aachen. His job is to develop customer-centric solutions for the digitalization of service processes. He started at TÜV Rheinland in Hong Kong in 2012 and has since been implementing IT projects together with a wide range of business units. His goal is always to make the solution as customer-friendly and simple as possible for the end user. As a father of three, he is exposed to feedback on a daily basis – whether as a parent in kindergarten, at school or during his daughter’s once again forgotten doctor’s appointment.
Nina Schüffelgen heads the Business Support Unit in the Mobility Business Unit as well as a team in the Regional Expansion of Rail Technology. After almost 20 years in project management and strategic consulting in various consulting companies, she has been contributing this experience to TÜV Rheinland since 2014. Her main focus is on process and portfolio standardization as well as the integration of regional locations and regional expansion. Over the past twelve months, Nina has had ample opportunity to give and receive feedback on several turbulent projects and with three children at home. She has benefited greatly from the idea of wrapping it as a gift and receiving it like a gift.