Giving and receiving feedback

Giving and receiving feedback can be tricky, but changing the way you respond to feedback can make all the difference.

What does the word 'feedback' make you think of? Awkward squirming while being told about things you've got wrong? When it comes to feedback there is an element of constructive criticism, but the key word is 'constructive', and in reality, it's about much more. It's about sharing achievements, discussing challenges, and looking at progress.

When it's given in the right way, feedback boosts our performance. Whether it's looking at what's going well or addressing what could be better, all constructive feedback has one thing in common: it focuses on the future. Which makes feedback a powerful motivator.

Honest, timely, and accurate feedback that can be turned into a task or action brings openness and a shared understanding. People then feel more comfortable to speak up and take on challenges together.

Constructive feedback can help you reach your potential. Highlighting the things you've achieved, the ways you can develop, and giving you the extra push to reach for more.

The difference between feedback, praise, and criticism

You know it's constructive feedback if it's based on facts or specific observations and helps you make improvements. If it focuses on personality, personal opinions, and doesn't help you improve– that's just criticism. And if it's positive comments like 'nice work' or 'this is great', then it's praise.

Praise is nice to hear, but vague praise can be unhelpful in isolation. Why? Because it doesn't point forward. It doesn't tell you how you can use your successes to achieve more.

Learn to manage your response

It's easy to fall into the trap of seeing constructive feedback as criticism. We focus on the negatives, reject the positive comments, and go into defence mode. Or we passively 'accept' them but overthink them afterwards.

If you get some constructive feedback, try to take a breath, and avoid an instant response. Take some time to really listen to the comments, assess them and talk them over in a constructive way. You shouldn't reject feedback out of hand, but you don't have to accept it without discussion either.

It takes practice to approach feedback positively and you'll probably learn what your own triggers are along the way. But when you can take constructive feedback and use it as opportunity to grow it becomes a powerful tool in your development.

Own your feedback, and use it

Constructive feedback is there to be owned, to be embraced and to turn into something positive to work on in the future. When you take what's been said and commit changing your behaviours, it's a commitment to improve and develop. Actively seeking feedback on your performance and expectations will always result in learning points and new challenges. That's how we get better and reach our potential.

Take time to give feedback

It's just as important to give as it is to receive – we've all heard that before, the same is true of feedback. The same principles can be applied to giving feedback as receiving it:

Be Timely

The closer to the event you feedback, the better. It may also prevent it becoming a bigger issue. For example, if you capture it early enough, you are feeding back on one issue, rather than the person repeating the same thing over and over again.

Check your motivation

Remind yourself why you are doing it. The purpose of giving feedback is to improve the situation or the person's performance. You'll get much more from people when your approach is positive and focused on improvement. That's not to say feedback always has to be good, but it should be fair and balanced.

Be specific

Making generalised feedback isn't helpful to anyone because it makes it hard for that person to do anything about it. It also means you'll stick to the facts and not be prone to exaggerate.

Most importantly, give positive feedback!

If someone has done a good job or something nice, tell them. Reinforcing good behaviour and performance is just as, if not more important than, the bad stuff. Even if there are some negatives in there, ending on a positive will ensure the person doesn't feel dejected.

Feedback: the key points

  • Feedback isn't criticism, it's about sharing achievements, discussing challenges, and looking at progress
  • Constructive feedback focuses on facts not personal opinion and paves the way for future improvements
  • By managing your response, you can use feedback as an opportunity to grow
  • Take a breath, don't instantly react, and talk the feedback over
  • Owning and embracing feedback helps us to develop and reach our potential
  • Giving feedback is just as important as receiving it