Whether it is coming from your professor, boss or fellow student, feedback can often have negative connotations.
It doesn’t always have to be that way. If done well, feedback can help resolve a specific challenge, spark motivation and foster personal development. A study on peer evaluation in higher education found that 60% of the students surveyed identified their peer feedback as useful for their academic and personal improvement. Additionally, 83% of students indicated that the process of both giving and receiving feedback provided the most learning.
In a peer group setting, everyone needs to understand that each member will give and receive constructive and thoughtful feedback. The “just give everyone in the group an A+” approach that we all have unfortunately succumbed to from time to time is not realistic for personal growth and encourages social loafing. Instead, focus on creating an atmosphere where each member agrees to both putting in the effort to provide helpful critiques and taking it respectfully.
Here are some strategies that can help you deliver and receive feedback productively.
Identify the Goals of the Conversation
Before you provide any feedback to your peers, consider what you want the other person to get out of the conversation. By evaluating what kind of feedback you should provide, you feel more prepared and confident when giving the feedback. Before you decide to jump into the conversation and ramble over general points, take the time to mentally or physically map out the goals of your conversation.
For example, if the classic “feedback sandwich” works for you then go for it! If not, perhaps writing out a clear beginning, middle and end to the conversation to keep you from getting lost in your words. Your fellow group member is taking your feedback seriously, so you need to provide the feedback with the same level of sincerity and professionalism.
General comments such as, “that was okay but needed a little work” and “I enjoyed working with you” are not as constructive as you think. Be specific and provide examples or resources that can help them improve. For example, instead of saying, “your writing isn’t the best”, identify specific areas of improvement. It might be helpful to suggest resources such as a writing center. At the end of the day, the more detailed your feedback is, the easier it will be for your peer to sharpen their skills.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
How you provide feedback to peers has a tremendous impact on its effect. By putting yourself into their shoes and practicing empathy, you will attain a better perspective on how to approach the situation.
Consider the personality type of the person you’re talking to and get to know them as an individual. By understanding their thought process, you will not only provide more personalized feedback, but you will also make them comfortable and receptive to constructive criticism.
While listening to your group member’s feedback, make sure you listen carefully to what they have to say. Even if there’s that little voice inside your head saying, “that’s not what I meant” or, “I do NOT do that”, you should try to understand where your peer is coming from. Getting defensive and reacting to the first piece of constructive criticism will make the rest of the situation uncomfortable and challenging for you and your fellow student.
So, if you feel that little voice inside of your head getting louder, remind yourself to breathe and take notes. Stopping your first reaction will also give your brain time to process the entire critique. Who knows, after you listen to it all, it might not even be as bad as you think!
Don’t Take It Personally
Especially when it comes to receiving feedback from a buddy or close friend, it is important to remind yourself no to take it too personally. It is easier said than done. Remember the feedback that you are receiving is aimed at your work rather than you personally.
Just because another student gives you a negative comment during your review, it doesn’t mean that they don't like you. Adjust your perspective and view your peer’s feedback as a growing opportunity. Ultimately, you will make the entire review session more pleasant for both you and your fellow group members.
Say Thank You
After your review session, be sure to express your gratitude for the helpful pieces of feedback and the time that they took to honestly assess you. Not only will this ensure that they will be happy to provide you with feedback again, but it’s just the right thing to do.
Constructive criticism exists to help you in the long run. Your peers took the time out of their day to provide you with their honest insight to help you improve - and that is worthy of a genuine, “thank you!"
Although discussing your strengths and weaknesses with your peers can be uncomfortable initially, feedback is inevitable. Keep these strategies in mind to look like a champ the next time you are either on the delivering or receiving end of peer-to-peer feedback.