Giving and Receiving Feedback


Whether you are a frontline supervisor or executive leader, at some point in your job you will have to give or receive feedback. A peer in the field recently asked a question regarding the rising difficulty in giving and receiving feedback in both the work environment and personal life. There are countless books and articles written on this subject for both personal and professional areas; however, I shared some practical principles which I have relied on in my managerial career and parenting life.

Principle One – Relationship – Giving and receiving feedback effectively, ultimately begins and ends with having a healthy relationship. For feedback to be effective and received the way it was intended, you must have an intact relationship with the person you are in communication with. In your personal life this means the person has to be someone who is close enough to you and you trust, i.e. a friend, or relative. The worst thing to do is to offer unsolicited advice to someone you either don’t know well enough to give it to, or the relationship is damaged to the point the person won’t listen. In the professional arena, that relationship has to be one of respect. If the person receiving the feedback doesn’t have professional or personal respect for you then the feedback is doomed from the beginning. Please remember though that culture can have a big influence on this as well. In some countries and cultures, position and age is the dominant requirement to give feedback, while a person receiving it automatically assumes a deferential role.

To the point that the skill of giving and receiving feedback is declining, I believe this is partly being driven by generational and social influences. In my observation social media is changing the way people esp. Gen-Xers and Millennials view relationships. I am constantly amazed and challenged with the way feedback and advice is communicated in the social media world. This is obviously flowing over into people’s daily lives whether at home or at work, and changing longstanding cultural norms. For example in my generation most people accepted feedback based on the position of the person giving it. If they were in leadership or if they were older it was accepted that they were in a de facto position to give feedback. Present and future generations are giving less and less prominence to position and more to the person. With that said though I believe this principle will survive even the social media onslaught. I have found that for real sound advice and feedback, even Millennials gravitate to those they have genuine respect for.

Principle Two Honesty – Feedback has to be honest in order to be effective. No matter what your delivery style, whether it is “right between the eyes”, or it is slow and deliberate; feedback that is less than honesty only exacerbates a situation. As important as having an intact relationship, honesty underpins the feedback. Sometimes giving and/or receiving honest feedback can be uncomfortable, but remember this becomes the foundation for addressing the issue. Depending on the situation sometimes I would begin the conversation off like this, “I’m about to give you some pretty direct feedback I hope you are open to receiving it, and I apologize in advance because it might not come out perfectly.”

Principle Three – Empathy – One of the principles of Steven Covey’s Seven Habits is, “seek first to understand, then to be understood…” This is the principle of really trying to understand what the person is feeling which has at its heart listening. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been in communication with someone who is really not listening; they are just waiting me to stop talking so they can get their words in. Here is an example of how I would apply this principle when I was a manager. When a team member came in my office for advice or to receive feedback I made sure no other thing was available to distract me. That meant, turning my computer screen off, placing the phone on silent or forward to voice mail, and ensuring there were no pressing appointments which may take me away from this moment. To truly check if you are being emphatic when giving feedback, ask yourself this question; “how would I feel if I was the one receiving this particular feedback?”

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