Giving and Receiving Feedback
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© Copyright Gail Zack Anderson
Some of us are really good at giving positive feedback. Others are really good at giving negative feedback. Not many seem skilled in providing both, what I call balanced feedback. Occasionally a client will tell me, “just tell it like it is. Be brutally honest.” Or, “you are just being nice.” This makes me wonder if my feedback is too polite, or too subtle, even though I try to give it honestly and in a balanced fashion. Why? Let’s take a look at what can happen when you give feedback, either too positive or too negative.
Too little positive feedback.
While working recently with a manager, I noticed that he tended to give mostly negative feedback, and very little positive. This manager stated that he had been taught that giving negative feedback would be more motivational. He also thought positive feedback seemed “too soft” and unnecessary. As he added: “Why should we praise people for just doing their jobs?”
When most or all feedback is negative, people know what you don’t like, but they often have to guess at what you do like or want from them. They may feel overwhelmed and discouraged by the criticism, and they may take it personally. They don’t ready minds, and so are often confused about what you really want. They may lose confidence, since everything they do seems wrong. In addition, if the only time they hear from you is when you have a complaint, they may soon begin to feel defensive, or try to avoid interactions with you.
That said, negative feedback has its place. To be effective it needs to be specific and non-judgmental. Compare these two comments on a written report:
- “I can’t believe you turned in such shoddy work. Don’t you know any better?”
- “One of your conclusions was faulty and you had 3 typos on the report.”
The first comment is shaming and demotivating. I feel bad, but I don’t know what I should do differently. The second comment seems deliberately unemotional, so it takes the shame out of it. It also gives me specific information about what I can do to improve.
Too much positive feedback.
If you are a big believer in positive feedback, or if you don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, you may be relying too much on positive feedback and fail to deliver the bad news. We have all heard about employees who received glowing performance reviews right up to the day they were let go for “performance issues.” Obviously, there were problems that should have been addressed. If all you give is positive feedback, people can have an unrealistically high view of their worth and performance levels. Because they receive unbalanced feedback, they can have confidence above and beyond their actual performance levels.
Positive reinforcement certainly has its place, and to be effective it also needs to be specific and clear. Consider these two examples:
- “Good job. Keep it up.”
- “Your report was clear, your conclusions were on target, and the writing was crisp and accurate.”
The first comment may make me feel good, but I am not really sure what was right about my work. It might make me feel bad because you didn’t even take time to notice what I did. In other words, the easy compliment seems canned and can come across as insincere. The second comment is all positive, but it tells me what you valued, and clearly shows you read my report.
Balanced feedback provides feedback on what is being done well as well as what could be improved. The positive feedback builds confidence and reinforces the “good” behavior you want to see more of. It clarifies expectations. It feels good. The negative feedback is given factually and preferably with suggestions for improvement.
Consider this example of balanced feedback:
1. “Your report was clear, your conclusions were on target, and the writing was crisp and accurate. There were several typos, and for that I suggest more careful proofing. And one of your conclusions wasn’t clear to me. Let’s talk it over this afternoon and compare notes. Overall, great job!”
If you lead, coach or develop people, I suggest aiming for balanced feedback that builds confidence, shows the direction you want the performance to take, and highlights areas for improvement in a clear, non-punishing way. At the same time, note that people react differently. Some crave the honest feedback, and some crave the “feel good” aspects of positive feedback. Some remember and take to heart any criticism, and some live for it. So adjust accordingly, but always strive to be honest, sincere and matter-of-fact.
By being honest and straightforward, and by offering balanced feedback, the people you influence can build skills and confidence at the same time.
© Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD
Feedback to employees is information regarding their performance and also is information they can act on. Feedback must be shared in a manner that is understandable to them and is perceived by them as being provided in a highly respectful manner. Sharing feedback involves skills in effective listening, verbal and non-verbal communications, and working in multi-cultural environments. Consider the following guidelines, as well.
1. Be clear about what you want to say before you say it.
You might have already sensed what feedback you want to convey. However, you should be clear to yourself about what you want to convey and how you want to convey it.
2. Share your feedback in a concise and specific manner, then you can embellish.
People often lose specificity when they speak because they say far too much, rather than not enough. Or, they speak about general themes and patterns. When giving feedback, first share what you saw or heard, what you want instead, and how the person can achieve it. Then you can add more descriptive information if necessary.
3. Avoid generalizations.
Avoid use of the words “all,” “never” and “always.” Those words can seem extreme, lack credibility and place arbitrary limits on behavior. Be more precise about quantity or proportion, if you address terms of quantities, at all.
4. Be descriptive rather than evaluative.
Report what you are seeing, hearing or feeling. Attempt to avoid evaluative words, such as “good” or “bad.” It may be helpful to quickly share your particular feeling, if appropriate, but do not dwell on it or become emotional.
5. Own the feedback.
The information should be about your own perception of information, not about the other’s perceptions, assumptions and motives. Use ‘I’ statements as much as possible to indicate that your impressions are your own.
6. Be careful about giving advice.
When giving feedback, it is often best to do one thing at a time – share
your feedback, get the person’s response to your feedback, and then, when
he/she is more ready to consider additional information, share your advice with
for Giving Feedback
How To Give Good Feedback
A Contrast of the Technical and Social Science Views of Feedback
Leadership Knowledge Base: Information to Improve Your Leadership Skills.
Kare Anderson : Handling Criticism With Honesty and Grace
Team Member Feedback: A Priceless Communication Tool
Respect for People Doesn't Mean Avoiding Any Hint of Criticism
How to Deliver Bad News to Employees
Feedback and Leadership
Secrets of Positive Feedback
How to Give Your Boss Feedback
Giving a High Performer Productive Feedback
10 Reasons Your Employees Hate You (Or At Least Reject You)
Criticism: How to Handle Negative Feedback From Your Boss
Feedback: Employee Want To Know How Theyâ€™re Doing
Recognition: Getting People To Give Their Very Best
What Kind of Feedback Are You Getting From Employees?
For the Category of Interpersonal Skills:
To round out your knowledge of this Library topic, you may want to review some related topics, available from the link below. Each of the related topics includes free, online resources.
Also, scan the Recommended Books listed below. They have been selected for their relevance and highly practical nature.
- Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision in Business
- by Carter McNamara, published by Authenticity Consulting, LLC.
Includes step-by-step guidelines, tips and tools to effectively lead:
2. Other individuals in the business
3. Groups and teams in the business
4. Business organizations
5. As well as all functions within the business organization.
Many of the Library's materials about business, leadership and management are adapted from this book. Just click on the title of the book above to see the Index and Table of Contents.
- Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision With Nonprofit Staff
- by Carter McNamara, published by Authenticity Consulting, LLC.
Includes step-by-step guidelines, tips and tools customized for personnel in nonprofits to effectively lead:
2. Other individuals in the nonprofit
3. Groups and teams in the nonprofit
4. Nonprofit organizations
5. As well as all functions within the nonprofit organization.
Many of the Library's materials about nonprofit leadership and management are adapted from this book. Just click on the title of the book above to see the Index and Table of Contents.
The following books are recommended because of their highly practical nature and often because they include a wide range of information about this Library topic. To get more information about each book, just click on the image of the book. Also, a "bubble" of information might be displayed. You can click on the title of the book in that bubble to get more information, too.