UCL Connect: Giving Good Feedback with Margaret Cheng
Last month, UCL alumna Margaret Cheng delivered a UCL Connect session for students, staff and fellow graduates on the importance of giving good feedback in academic and professional settings.
19 December 2023
With more than 30 years’ experience as a senior HR manager, career coach, executive and social enterprise director, Margaret volunteered her time and expertise to provide professional development for the UCL community.
Drawing from her newly released book, ‘Giving Good Feedback’, she based the session on three questions based around the importance of feedback, why it’s difficult and how we can make it easier.
What is feedback?
Feedback can be defined as information, opinions or reactions to a product or a person’s performance, Margaret explains.
Importantly, feedback is a form of communication that we engage in all the time, consciously or not, and it’s a skill that can be refined. It’s vital for learning, growth and understanding the impact of our actions. It should therefore be a routine part of our work, something to be expected and embraced rather than feared.
Why is it so hard?
A number of attendees offered candid insights into how positive feedback from an admired individual can be especially valuable, and that feedback should enable meaningful action.
However, negative feedback can be hard to receive as it often perceived as personal in nature and can stay with us for a long time.
What can we do to make it easier?
Margaret noted the importance of starting with yourself – constant feedback in multiple areas of our lives can be overwhelming, so it’s important to know what can trigger a particularly emotional response. We may not be able to change the appraisal system, but we can change our reaction to it.
Emotions + Reactions = Outcome
Pausing for a moment before giving or responding to a piece of feedback can produce more helpful outcomes, she says.
Distinguish between offering genuine feedback and implicitly asking “Why aren’t you more like me?”. Here, empathy and refraining from judgement are key – feedback should be a two-way conversation, a dialogue rather than a monologue, to ensure neither party becomes defensive.
There is also value in humility: two people can have different ways of doing things, both of which are effective, and we can learn from one another.
How can you be more helpful?
Margaret emphasised that telling people to just do something differently is neither helpful nor effective – to help people change their behaviour, they need to understand its impact. Constant critical feedback can feel like an attack, especially in competitive corporate environments, so being constructive is key.
Giving Good Feedback Framework:
- Avoid judgement and generalisation
- Focus on observed behaviours, not personality traits
- Create a climate for learning rather than fight or flight
This framework is shaped by psychologist David A. Kolb’s learning cycle, which involves an experience, reflection, learning, and integration into future experiences. To stay in the learning mentality, we should direct feedback at people’s observed behaviours rather than their inner selves.
Putting feedback through its PACES:
The PACES framework breaks down feedback in a methodical and manageable way of helping us to refocus on the issue and look for solutions:
Perception: What do you think you observed the person doing? Challenge your perceptions.
Activity: What are they actually doing (or not)?
Consequences: What are the consequences of their behaviour?
Explain and explore: How are these consequences impacting you/the work/your colleagues?
Share for success: What does success look like for both of you/the work/the team? Share ideas on what, if anything, needs to change to achieve success.
Summarising the event, Margaret said feedback should always be helpful, behaviour-focussed and, ultimately, a choice. Many attendees told us how pleased they were with the practical tips offered, and keen to apply what they had learned in their own environments.
More from Margaret
UCL Connect is dedicated to bringing professional development skill and expertise directly to alumni and students across the global UCL community. The programme ranges from in-person panels to online workshops and resources such as blogs, case studies and podcasts.
About the author
Emily Whitchurch is a third-year undergraduate studying Politics and International Relations. She is hoping to pursue a career in journalism and enjoys writing articles on a variety of topics, from politics and news to music and art.