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My two boys and me are avid watchers Strictly Come Dancing. They are 16 and 13 and it is one of the few things we watch on TV together. On Saturday night, my husband cooks or we have a takeaway, and eat off trays in front of the TV. We like to break our own rules from time to time and live on the wild side!

On the Sunday night programme recently, Head Judge Len Goodman said something along the lines of “The difference between Craig (Revel Horwood) and me is that I like to focus on what’s good about a dance, and he likes to focus on what’s bad.” His frustration with Craig, that’s my guess as to what his emotion was anyway, was quite clear.

Len’s comment got me thinking about the strengths approach to feedback, and what should work, or is supposed to work, and what actually does work for me.

I guess the usual thinking about giving feedback in the “strengths way”, is to focus on the positive. Positive psychology research would suggest that a ratio of positive to negative feedback needs to be at least 3 to 1, preferably 5 to 1, for thriving. The Appreciative Inquiry approach, would suggest building on what works, to take something that is good and do more of it, or to use something that is good, to tackle something that needs attention.

These are all things that I do and have done, when giving feedback as an executive coach, or as the facilitator of leadership development programmes (I’m laughing to myself as I write this, knowing what’s coming next!)

Because the bottom line is, I think that if I wanted to improve as a dancer, I would want feedback from Craig.

Now improvement is very great motivator and energiser for me, (i.e. a strength) but what else might be going on here? Would I really want Craig’s style of feedback right from the beginning, or just when going from 98% to 100% i.e. from the already very good to the really fantastic and so you can win?

So let’s have a look at all four styles of feedback from the Strictly Judges, and where the styles might fit in to a learning scenario. Here are some of my perceptions:

Darcey (Bussell) could be seen to give feedback in the most “strengths approach” way. She always starts with a positive, something she loved about the dance, and then often builds on that to mention what would benefit from improving. The improvement she typically mentions is what she would like to see more of next. So it’s not so much that something is wrong, but more like filling in a gap. The feedback is affirming, warm and encouraging.

Bruno (Tonioli) comes up with some amazing insights, and in many ways offers some really direct feedback on what needs to happen next, with the directness softened sometimes by wrapping it in fantastic, entertaining language.

Len’s style feels a bit more old school, and probably the least useful to me. A bit more like a pat on the head and marks for effort. How to improve is mentioned loosely, but not usually in detail. A really safe pair of hands though, he is clearly in charge, contributing to the overall balance and stability of the panel.

Craig is often very specific and precise in his feedback,  and it’s true that it can focus on the “what was wrong and needs to be addressed”, although sometimes equally so about what was right.

I also think it’s important to remember that Strictly is an entertainment show, and how this can and does influence things. It’s hard to judge how much the judges’ feedback styles are how they really are, or like to be, and how much is tailored for the camera. We cannot tell how they talk to the contestants when not being filmed. We cannot tell how much each of them are playing to prescribed roles (the offbeat one, the negative one, the pretty one and so on). My thoughts are based on very imprecise analysis afforded by watching a TV show.

So why would I want feedback from Craig more than from the others? After all, this is not what I claim to do myself.

It is my perception of his intent. It is what he does with his eye contact, his body language, the quality of his attention when giving feedback – which I see or take as his commitment to the dancer, or to the dancing profession as a whole. Someone who can be bothered to say all of what would be helpful, so that the person move forward the most. To me his feedback can seem more authentic and to build trust, at least when you have reached a certain level of competence.

So I am wondering about this 3:1 ratio now. Maybe it doesn’t need to be all words. Maybe the eye contact, body language, attention, time and effort – all these things that are non verbal –  count or can count as part of the “3”, meaning that we are able to hear the “1” – the so called negative, in a constructive way. My theory doesn’t quite hold, as Craig does sometimes offer a whole list of negatives too. And it is more complicated – it’s not just about being able to hear the “1” constructively, but also about being able to build on the “3”, often not done enough.

So what do you think? Who would you most like to receive feedback from? And at what stage of the competition? I am wondering about Darcey to start, Craig when already good, and Bruno when I needed a bit of left field, or incisiveness, that could help me see things differently.

I’d love to know your views!

Gill How

Helping leaders grow, step up and deliver outstanding results

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