Saturday, January 14, 2017

How to avoid giving feedback that seems like unsolicited advice

I recently participated in a twitter chat led by Compelled Bloggers Community member Allyson Apsey where the topic was being a champion for teachers. It was mainly directed towards school administrators, even though educators in all positions could participate and share input. One of the questions Allyson asked was "What does supporting teachers NOT look like?" 

I love questions that are framed this way... it's like figuring out what we need to take off of our plate in order to make room for something new. It also helps us to have models that are examples of good and bad when we are trying to improve.

What does _______ NOT look like?

One of the responses to Allyson's question has sparked a conversation in our Women in Education Leadership Voxer group. The comment that has led to further discussion is, "Unsolicited advice is about the worst support one can offer." In education, we value communication and feedback. We know that growth occurs when we take action on feedback we get. 

Four ways to keep feedback we give from seeming like "unsolicited advice"

1. Build relationships first When the relationship and/or trust is not there, giving feedback is more likely to feel like unsolicited advice. School leaders must continue to build trust and deepen relationships with staff members so that they can share feedback that will help staff members grow. 

2. Ask for permission Sometimes we give our input because we believe that others want our advice or information. One suggestion is to ask the recipient for permission. For example, "Would you mind if I shared an idea with you about your classroom arrangement that I learned from another teacher?" It also prepares the recipient for what is coming and helps to eliminate surprise. 

3. Consider HOW it is said Have a method for giving feedback, whether it is to sandwich it between compliments or use a phrase that makes it non-threatening. Just blurting out advice without framing it or giving notice of what's about to come can cause a recipient to be surprised and get defensive.

4. Offer the opportunity to consider and respond Let the recipient know you are open to hearing from him if he would like to take time to consider the information and get back to you if he has a response or question.

Sometimes the baggage people bring to work prevent them from receiving feedback/advice, no matter how well-stated or intended the advice is. It should be noted that ultimately, it is up to the recipient to decide if she will act on the advice or not.  

Leaders who create cultures where risk-taking is valued and applauded will find that it opens up the door to looking for and accepting feedback. When one takes a risk, it is with a chance of failure. Being willing to learn from failure is a mindset that understands the process of "experiment-feedback-iterate-repeat."

Sometimes the only way to avoid making feedback seem like unsolicited advice is not to give it at all. 

What other tips would you give leaders on giving feedback that doesn't seem like unsolicited advice? (Share in the comments below)


  1. Great tips Jennifer, and I loved the conversation leading up to the post. That video is a favorite of mine for many reasons and one of them is that I is a compelling call for empathy. Thank you for always making me think. I appreciate you!!

  2. Agree with Allyson, you always make me think. I love the subtle things that separate average leaders from great leaders!

  3. Jennifer, I can think of a situation just last week that I could have framed a conversation differently had I read this before the conversation. Thanks for sharing your thoughts to help us all be better!

  4. I really like your 4 points for openings so the listener doesn't perceive it as "unsolicited advice." I will use your ideas. When I receive "unsolicited advice" of the critical nature (from family members), I have learned to say "Thank you for your opinion" and carry on the conversation to avoid the forthcoming argument which was really the intent.