The Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback
Few people need to be given a sales pitch about the importance of giving and receiving feedback. We all know that feedback is an important part of any relationship, yet it so often becomes a stumbling block rather than a helpful communication tool.
Why? It’s probably because we tend to underestimate the positive impact of feedback delivered well and the negative effect of feedback delivered poorly or not delivered at all.
To give good, meaningful feedback, you need to know what feedback is and what it is not.
Feedback is not complaining
It’s best to exercise restraint when delivering feedback. The goal of giving feedback is not to rant and let off steam. It is to offer your perspective and opinion to someone else in a way that they might find helpful. When your feedback is laced with negative emotions, frustration, and anger — this overshadows whatever benefit your feedback could have had.
Here is a good rule of thumb:
When the feedback is positive — let your emotions show.
When the feedback is negative — keep your emotions to yourself.
Feedback is not a personal attack
On the flip side of that, when you receive feedback, it’s important not to take it personally.
In other words, just leave your ego at the door. There can be a lot to learn even from the harshest critics as long as you remember that their feedback is not directed at you as a person but at a solution, idea, product, etc. that they don’t like.
Now, the big question is — what is good feedback?
Good feedback should be:
Let’s say Sam was asked to give feedback on the company’s learning and development program. And this is what Sam says:
“There is some room for improvement but everything is ok overall”.
Is this feedback helpful? No, because it doesn’t have any details that would give us ideas for which next steps we should take. It’s very unclear what we should improve and how.
To make your feedback detailed, make sure you cover the following points:
- What was your personal experience like?
- If your experience was good — what was good about it? If it was bad — what didn’t you like?
- What solutions or improvements can you suggest? What should be kept / done more of?
Whether you’re delivering positive or negative feedback, it should inspire them to grow, try new ideas, and just feel good about their potential overall. Hurtful feedback (i.e. one that complains or attacks) can destroy someone’s faith in themselves and this would be terrible for their morale and productivity.
You might want to do this:
- State your personal opinion and highlight it by using “I” statements (Say “I don’t see the benefit of this” instead of “This is useless” or “I’d like to see more of this” instead of “There should be more of this”.)
- Avoid finger-pointing “you” statements (Say “We need to take this into account going forward” instead of “This should be taken into account” or “It looks like there’s an error on line 34” rather than “You made an error on line 34”).
- Highlight the positives. Don’t just talk about what you didn’t like, or you’ll run the risk of sounding like you’re complaining. Good feedback is 360 — it covers the full spectrum, both the good and the bad. (Say “I like the choice of colors, but I think we need to play around with the intensity. The color contrast is a bit too stark for my eyes” rather than “The colors are too intense”).
Remember that feedback is not an outpouring of thoughts and emotions. It needs to be received and understood by others who will invest their time into analyzing and drawing from it. Understand the value your feedback can bring to the table and keep it concise, goal-oriented, and structured.
Feel free to use the following structure to give any kind of feedback.
- Important background information
- What you like
- What you don’t like
- What can be done about it
Right now, Sam is going to try and use this format to rewrite the old piece of feedback from before.
“I took one course from the learning and development program called “How to manage your time effectively”.
I liked the pace and delivery. The content was easy-to-follow and well-structured.
I’d like to see more practical and job-relevant tutorials and tips, however.
The program creators might consider adding more tutorials and guidelines on how to use the tools that are used here at our company (Kanban, Trello, Jira, etc). I feel like this would remove a lot of confusion and stress that new hires have to go through during their first weeks at the company.”
If you don’t like something — let people know about it. If you like something — make sure you let people know it. If you have an idea — also let people know about it.
Basically, get into the habit of treating feedback as an ongoing process rather than something that happens once a year during a peer review.
Continuous feedback means:
- Giving or collecting feedback as soon as the opportunity strikes (For example: asking a client to fill out a feedback form right after you’ve had an in-person meeting with them rather than putting it off until the “proper time”)
- Creating an environment where people are encouraged to give their opinion and share ideas (For example: leaving 5–10 minutes in every meeting for questions and answers)
- Following up on the feedback you got. This will prompt people to give you more feedback in the future as they will see that they are being listened to (For example: circling back on someone’s pitch they delivered earlier in an email).
Feedback is always welcome as long as it’s detailed, inspiring, and specific. And now that you know how to deliver feedback in an effective way, it’s time to employ it on a continuous basis and make it part of your personal and professional life.
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