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What I Really Think About You: How to Give Feedback

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Guest blogger Shana Merlin is not just an expert in improv comedy, teaching, theater, and more, she’s also great at giving feedback to others. Here are her suggestions for offering input to the people in your life.

Last time I talked about one experience doing a voiceover. That led into a conversation about how to receive feedback. This time: how to give feedback to others.

Conversation in a Circle

© Flickr user laurelville_gallery

Here are my tips:

  • Ask permission.
    In some situations, it’s perfectly clear who should give feedback: managers in a review, teachers in a classroom, coaches on the field, directors in the theater. But there are a lot of situations, like an improv troupe (or a meeting of peers), where the hierarchy isn’t clear and feedback isn’t always welcome. So if you have feedback to give, ask permission before giving it.
  • Timing is everything.
    In general, it’s great to give feedback in private, in person, and when someone is expecting it. That’s not always possible. In improv, I like to paraphrase one of my heroes, Rafe Chase of 3 For All:

    Giving feedback right after an improv show [or an important meeting] is like giving feedback right after sex.

    You’ve just had an exciting and intimate experience with someone else who had their own individual take on it as well. Let them have that. The time for notes is ideally at rehearsal, when everybody is ready to work.

  • Be kind. Be direct. Be Honest.
    This is hard. Be nice. Focus on the behavior, not the person. Try not to use extremes like “you always…” Don’t over-qualify or over-word it so your meaning gets lost. Be brave enough to be clear and specific. And you know… tell the truth, or as much of it as you think is bearable.
  • Pick your battles.
    Don’t start by telling people everything that’s wrong with them. Instead, start by picking one or two things that are either the most important or the most actionable.
  • Use the Magic Ratio.
    People receive feedback best when they have heard 5-6 positive comments first. So sprinkle those in throughout your interactions. Otherwise your good info might be dismissed.
  • Be positive and future focused.
    Don’t give feedback about things that are over and can’t be changed. Give feedback to move forward with. Instead of focusing on what went wrong last time, consider what can be better next time?
  • Make your feedback match the person’s needs.
    Different people have different feedback needs. Ask people how they like to receive feedback. In person? Written in an email so they can digest it? Anonymously? Me, I love to get permission to do something. Like permission to play crazy characters or let go of the story, or just worry about myself and not everyone else.
  • Be like Elsa. Let it go!
    Once you’ve given your feedback and offered support for follow up, it’s in the recipient’s hands.

Shana Merline, Guest BloggerYou do want to give feedback, if it’s an option people are open to. And best of all? They might offer you feedback in the future, helping everyone to improve!

The Founder of Merlin Works, Shana Merlin is one of the most experienced and effective improv teachers in Central Texas. The former Dean of The Heroes School of Improvisational Theatre, Shana has been an internationally touring performer and award winning teacher since 1995. Shana has trained with some of the top teachers in the field of improvisation including Keith Johnstone, and members of Second City, The Annoyance, IO, The Groundlings and more.

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