How Do YOU “Feed Back”?

Giving feedback isn’t an innate skill. Doing it well takes a whole lot of upfront planning, skill, and some practice, too.

Welcome, newcomers. The tradition of Festivus begins with the airing of grievances. I got a lot of problems with you people! And now you’re gonna hear about it! —Frank Costanza, Seinfeld

In life, and at work, we’re the recipients of others’ feedback—whether we want it or not. It comes in formal and informal performance reviews and after-action reviews following the completion of projects. Often, feedback in one form or other also is dropped into casual conversation. It is meted out by family, friends, coworkers, supervisors, leaders, and peers. However, the words, “I’d like to give you some feedback,” don’t necessarily land the way the speaker intended them to. Why? It is likely the recipient has at least one so-called feedback experience from their past that has left its indelible and unpleasant mark.

Consider this: Just because you’re ready to give feedback, doesn’t mean your intended recipient(s) is ready to receive feedback. Even though such feedback may have been scheduled and possibly has an established agenda—the works—it still might not be received as intended.

Feedback exists in many forms. However, much of what is presented as feedback just isn’t good. In fact, it might be so bad, it becomes problematic in some way.

It bears saying that giving feedback isn’t an innate skill. Doing it well takes a whole lot of upfront planning, skill, and some practice, too. Before the exchange can ever be considered “successful,” there is work to do. And there must be an intention to do the work across time. Work? What work? I’m referring to the fact that trust-filled relationships must be well established before the feedback occurs. Trust is established through intentionally being interested in others and their success. Also, through proving that you’re reliable and consistent with them, too. In other words, to be trusted, you must be trustworthy.

Tips for Successful Feedback

Let’s explore some ways to be more successful with feedback going forward.

  1. Successful feedback begins with trust. People should feel that you’re the same person no matter the circumstances.
  2. Successful feedback avoids the use of personal anecdotes and opinions as much as possible. At one time or another, I’m sure just about everyone has heard the phrase, “Well, that’s one person’s opinion…”
  3. Successful feedback is planful and consistent. Make and take the time to plan out what you’ll discuss. Ask the intended recipient whether they are even open to a discussion with you about topic A or subject B. If so, schedule it when they are available (not the other way around).

When a work-related feedback session is a follow-up to a previous event on the same topics, refer to information previously presented using similar wording, data, and facts. Provide before and after information using facts and data about what is true.

  1. Successful feedback keeps the discussion generally positive, constructive, and proactive with an eye to next time. (If there is no next time, pat yourself on the back and move on.)
  2. Successful feedback refers to actual data and facts, never hearsay or one-off commentary. Avoid phrases such as, “Someone said…,” “I heard someone say…,” “A few people said…” Hearsay information holds the potential to be unnecessarily inflammatory, thereby negating whatever comes before and after.

Now none of this is easy and will take much practice to achieve. But isn’t putting in the work worth it?

Dawn J Mahoney, CPTD
Dawn J. Mahoney, CPTD, is the program content manager for Training magazine. She also owns Learning in The White Space LLC, a freelance talent development (“training”) and instructional design consultancy. She is passionate about developing people through better training, better instructional design, and better dialog. E-mail her at: