Giving and Receiving Feedback

Feedback provides information and advice. It’s offered in a variety of settings, such as part of your supervision, during presentations at conferences, while teaching or learning, or when working as part of a team. Whatever the environment, feedback is a highly productive way of developing yourself and your skills.

However, it’s important to give and receive feedback in the right way and in context. In most circumstances, it’s best to approach feedback from the perspective of kindness and empathy. As humans, we can hear a 100 positive comment, but that one negative (and mean) one will stick with us. The message of the adverse comment may be something important to know, but its delivery makes us either question the giver’s intent or makes us defensive. Constructive criticism should be constructive; that is, useful. In professional circles, I’ve witnessed and received some frightfully unprofessional feedback. Be kind or be quiet, I say.

Giving Feedback

Here are some guidelines to follow when providing feedback:

  • Above all, be motivated by the desire to help; always consider the value of what you’re saying to the person receiving the feedback.

  • Give personal feedback face to face, never by email. Difficult conversations deserve to be had in person and in private.

  • Offer feedback on what you directly know or have seen; avoid incomplete or second-hand information.

  • Limit yourself to the most essential points.

  • Ask questions when appropriate, rather than make statements.

  • Let the person know in advance, if possible, about the feedback. Don’t surprise them.

  • Feedback should be timely and as close in time to the event to which it relates.

  • Highlight areas where the person did well, as well as areas of improvement.

  • Some people suggest placing negative feedback between two pieces of positive feedback (popularly known by this euphemism). Many find this approach patronizing and prefer straight talk.

  • Be concise and specific.

  • Give the other person the opportunity to respond.

Receiving Feedback

As much as possible, be open to constructive criticism and to compliments. Sometimes negative feedback, delivered professionally, is life changing.

Years ago, I worked for a Director of Development Operations at a small, private college. She invited me into her office once and took me to task on several things I needed to improve. She delivered strong feedback in a stern, dignified way. I remember not being upset or angry, but thinking, “Wow, she’s exactly right!” I gained so much respect for how she handled the situation that I immediately wanted to rectify the problems. That’s the power of well-received feedback.

When receiving feedback, follow these guidelines:

  • Avoid being defensive; allow others to be honest and give them the opportunity to be heard.

  • Stay focused and listen closely.

  • Ask questions to help clarify comments.

  • Acknowledge valid points.

  • Take time to think about what you hear. You don’t need to respond in that moment, especially if you are emotionally charged. Give yourself some time to process the feedback.

  • If appropriate, return to the person giving feedback with suggestions or ideas about specific points raised.

  • If you’re the subject of particularly negative or weird feedback, ask yourself if the person delivering it is motivated by the desire to help. Or is something else going on instead? Trust your gut. Feedback is never an opportunity for abuse or “negging.” Sometimes people are just jerks.

What are your experiences with feedback? Do you have suggestions to add to the guidelines I’ve outlined? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

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