How do you feel about giving feedback?
Providing feedback can be tricky sometimes – but it’s extremely important. It’s a crucial instigator of development. It also enhances our growth mindset and practical skills.
But why can giving feedback be so challenging sometimes? We’ve all had experiences of both giving and receiving feedback that didn’t go well or, in some cases, may even have caused real harm and pain for us and others.
There are four key things to remember when we’re giving feedback, if we want it to be well received. Here are some tips for feedback that can help you be more effective in giving it.
Tips for Giving Feedback
There has to be implicit or, ideally, explicit permission for us to give someone feedback. Unsolicited feedback, even if it’s spot-on and valuable, can be hard to take.
Asking someone if they’re open to feedback or whether we can give them some, while sometimes awkward, can be helpful and important. This is true even if we’re their manager, parent, or mentor, or in any other type of relationship where permission for our feedback may seem implied.
Making sure that we have permission to give feedback shows that we respect and value the person to whom we’re giving it. It also usually makes feedback feel less like judgment and more like support, allowing the person to be more receptive to what we have to say.
It’s important for us to check in with ourselves about the intention we have behind the feedback. In other words, why are we giving them this feedback? Do we genuinely want them to be more successful? Are we annoyed with them and want to let them know why? Are we trying to prove or defend ourselves? Are we trying to control them or the situation?
There are lots of reasons why we might provide feedback to others, but acknowledging our true motivation and being real with ourselves can help us determine whether or not it’s even going to be helpful. Making sure our intentions are genuine and constructive increases the likelihood of the person being open to receiving it.
Giving feedback takes skill. Of course, from a growth-mindset perspective, providing feedback is not only important, but also one of many things we can improve upon the more we practice and dedicate ourselves to doing it.
The feedback process can be deeply personal and vulnerable. It often requires genuine attention, commitment, self-awareness, and courage from all parties involved if it is going to go well and have real impact. It’s not easy to do. However, the more open and willing we are to engage in this process authentically, the more we can develop and refine our ability to provide feedback effectively. And there are, of course, different ways to skilfully give feedback.
Oftentimes, especially at work, we may give it directly and explicitly as part of a review or development conversation. But as Melissa Daimler, Chief Learning Officer at Udemy and author of ReCulturing, said to me a while back on my podcast, “Sometimes the best feedback I’ve gotten has been when I didn’t even realize it was feedback.”
The most important aspect of giving feedback is the relationship we have with the person we’re giving it to. We can have explicit permission, the most positive intention, and a lot of skill in how we deliver it — but if our relationship isn’t strong or it’s actively strained, it’ll be very difficult for us to give feedback to someone and have them receive it well. I could get the same exact feedback from two different people but react to it differently depending on my relationship with each of them.
Let’s say, in one case, I know the person cares about me, appreciates me, and believes in me. I’m much more likely to be open to their feedback and to take it positively. But if, in another case, the person is someone I don’t know as well or may have some unresolved issues with, it’s less likely that I’ll be open and take their feedback well. This is all about personal credibility.
Making sure the relationships we have are strong and authentic helps us ensure that we can give feedback effectively when we need to do so.
All four of these things — permission, intention, skill, and relationship — are important for us to remember when giving feedback. And they’re also important for us to think about in receiving feedback.
The other side of the same coin is making sure that we give people permission to give us feedback, check in with and pay attention to what their intention might be, give them feedback about how they’re giving it or how we like it to be given, and work to strengthen our relationships with the people around us.
To improve our capacity to receive feedback, we should embrace three key practices: actively seeking it by asking for it, fostering an open attitude towards it, and genuinely considering it when it comes our way.
Embracing feedback is vital for our personal and professional development because it propels us towards growth and success. The more receptive we become to seeking and absorbing feedback, the more we nurture an authentic mindset of growth, leading us further along the path of continuous improvement.
What makes giving feedback most challenging for you? What can you do to make it a little easier and more effective?
This article was originally published in 2018 as an excerpt from my book, Bring Your Whole Self to Work. This version was updated in 2023.