In order to understand how to give more effective feedback, we need to think about it from the point of view of the person receiving it. Think back to the last time somebody gave you feedback on your dancing (or on your life choices). Assuming your feedback giving was coming from a place of genuinely wanting to help you, the feedback probably sounded something like this:
"I would like a little more stretch at the end of your line."
"Your core wasn't engaged enough through that turn."
"I thought you could have done a better job of varying your rhythms."
"Your grounding isn't great."
The feedback may come with helpful suggestions or may be couched between two positive things, but it probably still hurt at least a little bit to hear.
At a high level, feedback comes in two categories: value-based feedback and specific feedback.
Value based feedback is anything with an implicit or explicit value judgement: "I liked...," "I hated...", "... was great." "... could have been better." A big part of the reason most feedback hurts to hear is that it is, like all the examples above, value based feedback. It's a personal judgement about something you just did.
Specific feedback is feedback that doesn't include those value judgements and is instead focused on cause and effect and what the feedback giver felt. "If you bring your weight onto the balls of your feet, it will make your body's motion more clear to your follow." "By letting your hips rotate out at the end of the line, you're winding up a spring that will let your partner add more momentum to the next move." There is no right or wrong or good or bad. There are choices you can make that will affect what you can do and how it feels to your partner.
Giving value-judgement-free feedback takes a lot of work. It's very unnatural for most people. Some little value judgement will just slip out before you've ever realized you've said it. I actually almost titled this post 'Giving Good Feedback' before realizing the irony.
So practice! Next time you're working with a partner (maybe at the free practice session we run from 7–8 before Friday Night Blues!), try to focus your feedback on the cause and effect of the choices your partner is making.
by Paul Mandel
Footnote: If you're practicing with a partner who isn't familiar with specific feedback and instead is offering value judgements, ask "why" questions to probe for those cause-and-effect relationships: "I didn't like your rhythms." [not very useful] "Why didn't you like them?" "Well, I didn't think they really matched the rhythms being expressed in the song." [more useful].