The Best Kind of Feedback

According to Scott H. Young, in his excellent book Ultralearning, there are three types of feedback that we typically receive as we are learning, but one of them is the toughest to find and the one that is often the most effective.

The first kind of feedback is one we are all familiar with – Outcome Feedback. It tells you generally how you are doing but doesn’t offer ideas on how you can improve. This type of feedback includes things such as a grade on a test, pass/fail, applause (or lack of it) after a speech, and so on. While it is helpful, it doesn’t really give you specifics on how to become better.

The second type of feedback he calls Informational Feedback. This tells you when something is incorrect or wrong but does not give you any information about how to fix what is wrong. Scott gives the example of him trying to speak a foreign language to a native speaker, and only receives a confused stare in return. He obviously knew what he said was somehow incorrect, but the feedback (confused stare) did not tell him what he was getting wrong. Again, it tells you that something is wrong, but not specifically what was wrong and how to fix it.

Scott says (and I wholeheartedly agree) that Corrective Feedback is by far the most effective form of feedback. The reason this feedback is tougher to find is that it usually comes from a coach, mentor, or teacher. Corrective feedback is not only informative, but it is also useable to the person receiving the feedback. Not only do you learn what is wrong or needs improving, you also learn how to correct what is wrong.

In the workplace, I am of the opinion that this is the kind of feedback that we need from our leaders. It is easy to tell someone that something is wrong, but what is most valuable, and often more difficult, is to help people correct what is wrong. This is one of the reasons, I advocate for “coaching leadership” in the workplace. As leaders, we should be coaching those that we lead. Not only pointing out what is “wrong”, but then also coaching them as to how to be even better.

Once again, in my opinion Ultralearning is an excellent book and worth your time to read.

Young, Scott H. (2019). Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY.