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Feedback: How to Give It, How to Receive It, and Why It Matters


Feedback is such an essential part of your daily life. At its very core, feedback tells you whether or not you’re doing what you want to be doing, in the way that you want to be doing it. Feedback provides you with information on how you’re showing up in the world. Feedback is your indicator of what’s working and what’s not. In short, feedback is a good thing.

Feedback shows up in lots of ways. Typically, you might think of feedback in terms of written or spoken evaluation of your work. Phrases like “good job”, “well done”, “something’s missing”, or “that’s not right” are examples of feedback. Results are also a form of feedback. When you fall short of a goal, this is a form of feedback that says something was missing to reach the objective; when you surpass a goal, this feedback would suggest that you did all you need to and more.

At all times, whether or not feedback is effective is dependent on two things: how it’s given and how it’s received. For this reason, I want to share some simple strategies for both of these aspects.

Strategies for Giving Feedback

  1. Speak in terms of your experience. Historically, this has been known as delivering “I-messages”. Saying “I’m feeling hurt” is a less accusatory feedback phrase than “You hurt my feelings”. It acknowledges impact without apportioning blame.

  2. Know why you’re giving the feedback. Do you want to complain? To help the person grow? What’s the result you want? Knowing this will help you to deliver your feedback accurately.

  3. Be aware of your emotions. Emotions aren’t a bad thing, and when you’re unaware of how you’re feeling, they can railroad the best feedback.

  4. Own your emotions. This is taking the awareness one step further. Statements like, “I’m feeling really frustrated right now” speak to what you’re feeling, ensuring that emotions aren’t charging the interaction, but are still getting named.

  5. Keep your “radar” on for how your feedback is landing. Is it having the impact you want? Is the person receiving your feedback as intended? Constantly tweak as necessary to ensure a productive exchange.

  6. Avoid the “heat of the moment”. Count to 10 if you need to, follow the 24 hour rule, do whatever you need to do in order to avoid being impulsive and “saying the wrong thing.”

Strategies for Receiving Feedback

  1. Make sure you’re prepared to receive information, whether positive or not. When someone approaches you saying they have something to share, be honest about your willingness to do so. Clear whatever distractions to make yourself available.

  2. Listen, listen, listen. This cannot be emphasized enough. If there is ever a time to be quiet, it is now, until the person providing feedback is done.

  3. Stay out of defence mode. Particularly if the feedback felt accusatory, know that “defending” yourself doesn’t usually help. Explaining can be helpful. Getting curious and asking for examples can be even better.

  4. Be gracious and accountable. When someone pays you a compliment (positive feedback) the gracious response is “thank you” – nothing more, no explanation required. When someone offers you a criticism or complaint, accountability means apologizing. If you can’t apologize for the act itself, apologize for its impact. Unless you meant to be hurtful, disrespectful, mean – an apology is in order and it speaks far better about you than if you try to defend.

  5. Be aware of your emotions. Emotions can cloud how you receive feedback. Especially if you’re dealing with criticism, be aware of your “instinctive” responses and manage these appropriately.

  6. Avoid the “heat of the moment”. Yes, this rule applies to receiving feedback as much as giving it. Again, count to 10 if you need to, follow the 24 hour rule, do whatever you need to do in order to avoid being impulsive and “saying the wrong thing.”

Now, having shared strategies for both sides of the feedback exchange, here’s something to bear in mind. It might appear that the giving and receiving of feedback are linked in some way. In other words, you might be tempted to say something like, “well, how I respond to feedback depends on how it’s delivered.” While there is certainly truth in this statement, it is also true that, in actual fact, the giving and receiving of feedback stand independently. In other words, while you might have an instinctive response to how someone provides feedback, when you allow yourself to stand in awareness – awareness of emotion, awareness of response, awareness of impact – you can choose an alternative response if necessary, one that will serve better.

One last caveat: while I offer these strategies, perhaps the most important strategy for both giving and receiving is to give yourself permission to get it wrong. In other words, there will be times when you give feedback impulsively, and when you receive feedback less than graciously. When this happens, own it, acknowledge it and shift back into an effective feedback loop.

Bottom-line: feedback is an essential part of our human experience. Learning to deliver and receive feedback effectively will serve you well. Sometimes it’s easy; sometimes it’s hard; and at all times, when you can heighten your awareness and be with feedback in that space, you will move yourself and others forward.