How to Give Feedback — and How to Take it

Everybody likes getting feedback.

Oh wait, that’s wrong. Nobody likes feedback. Feedback is just a fancy word for criticism. And to make it worse, it’s criticism the recipient is supposed to be grateful for because it will help them do their jobs better.

I sounded pretty defensive there, didn’t I? And that’s the point — feedback makes us defensive. We don’t like getting it, and if we’re the boss, we sometimes avoid giving it because we fear it will wound the recipient or harm the relationship.

Here’s a conundrum, though: the more confident employees are about how they are regarded in the workplace, the more “free” they feel to focus on high-stakes, value-added work such as coming up with new ideas and working boldy to implement them.

So how do we get past our fear of giving and receiving feedback? Here are some tips.

How to Give It

  • Lead with intent. “The reason I am telling you this is …. I am hoping the result of this conversation will be ….”
  • Have a conversation. View the conversation as a two-way exchange that you will both benefit from.
  • Understand the goal. The purpose of constructive feedback is to encourage the other to move into a problem-solving conversation with you, not to “change” for you.
  • Focus on the behavior, not the person. Discuss the impact an action has had on the company or team. Avoid labels or statements where you conjecture as to why the person chose to act in the way they did.
  • Give it often enough that it becomes part of the ongoing maintenance of the relationship. If you give it only rarely or without context, the employee may blow it out of proportion.
  • Ask what the other person hears you saying. Ask what is important to them and what they need from you in terms of support or clarification.

How to Get it

  • Resist defensiveness. Don’t justify or explain or blame someone else. Remember, feedback is data and can result in a better relationship.
  • Ask questions. Ask for specific examples to support the statements you are hearing so that you can better understand — and so that you can improve.
  • Mirror what is being said to you as a way to indicate that you understand. “I’m hearing that the number of personal phone calls I make during the workday is making you concerned that I lack focus on the job.”
  • Thank the giver. They care enough to provide you with this data, and that indicates that they want you to succeed.

Think you can handle this two-way task? Be sure to weigh in below. Share a tip about giving feedback that you thought of yourself — or share one you received as….well, feedback.

that indicates that they want you to succeed.