How to Give and Receive Feedback

Don’t fear feedback. Done well, it’s an incredible avenue for growth & development.

When I was early in my professional experiences, I would cringe, tremble, and sweat before each quarterly review. I was terrified of making mistakes and only viewed feedback with a negative connotation. I think these feelings came from a combination of feedback being delivered very poorly and a misunderstanding of how invaluable professional development opportunities were. These early years, and the more recent years in my career coaching Executives and Executive Assistants, have given me a completely different perspective on giving and receiving feedback.

As we begin the conversation surrounding giving and receiving feedback, I would encourage you to consider the following most basic description of what feedback truly is: advice, criticism, or information about how good or useful something or someone's work is.

Let’s distill this a little bit. Feedback is most simply an opportunity for the value you’re adding to something or someone to be increased, to be more effective, and/or to be more meaningful as a contributor. Who would not want to be on either the giving or receiving end of such beneficial information?

The opportunities I have to sit under the leadership of someone who has gone before me and who is steeped in seeing me, as a professional, succeed, are some of what I regard as my most highly valued moments when considering my career journey. In the same vein, as a leader who is regularly tasked with assessing the performance and efficiencies of team members sitting under your leadership, your words are powerful.

Giving Feedback:

As I mentioned, when you are giving feedback to others, your words are powerful. They carry weight. You can significantly aid or destroy the internal dialogue within a person’s head, and you should enter these conversations prepared and equipped to have a productive discussion.

  • Lead with positive recognition. The best way to begin any conversation, anytime, across the board, is to build the other person up. Why would you not? This is a basic and easy way to contribute significantly to another person’s day being a little bit brighter. It also level-sets mutual respect between the two parties.

  • Be prepared. If you are planning to spend time outlining an opportunity for growth in a team member, the most respectful thing you can do in this conversation is to come prepared. This eliminates the risk of saying things that become offensive and flippant. This also allows you to have 1-2 suggestions based on an actual scenario to give actionable considerations regarding the plans moving forward.

  • Allow for questions and comments. Don’t do all the talking. Allow your colleague to ask clarifying questions, receive additional advice, or simply chat through the circumstances around the feedback you’re bringing up.

  • End with gratitude. It is always wise to be grateful for these conversations (on the giving and receiving end). Be sure to specifically thank your team member’s willingness to think through this feedback with you and for their commitment to moving forward with a fresh perspective.

Receiving Feedback:

If you’re a perfectionist like me, it can be hard to hear feedback. I mentioned earlier in this blog post that in the early days of my career, I struggled significantly with seeing feedback as anything but negative. I am so grateful to leaders along the way who have helped reframe my thinking around feedback, and this has allowed for much growth in what I can contribute professionally. I share this to help you feel camaraderie in the angst you might feel as you receive feedback. This is normal, and you’re not alone. I will outline a few things that have been contributing factors in my reframing of feedback.

  • Feedback = Opportunity. One of the biggest ways I personally reframed feedback and now coach others to think through feedback is to view these conversations as opportunities. These moments of hearing ways in which something might have been more effective or less clunky are opportunities for you to make suggested adjustments and hit a HOME RUN on the next at-bat. This is huge for you professionally! You are being given a perfect pitch for the next time you’re up at the plate.

  • Feedback is akin to growth. I don’t know many people who have no interest in becoming more relevant and respected professionally. If you are serious about elevating your level of service in your role, feedback is a necessity you cannot out-work. No amount of extra hours, extra workload, or extra committees is going to make you immune to needing feedback on occasion. I would encourage you to reset your thinking of feedback conversations from negative highlights to growth moments. The best leaders in the world surround themselves with peers who hold them accountable and set the measure high for their own sake. This is a pattern and habit of the world’s most successful people.

  • Feedback drives passion. Being able to receive feedback with humility and maturity is incredibly impressive. Even more impressive? Taking that feedback and turning it into fuel for the tank.

As you can see, feedback is powerful. It is something no one is immune to, and it allows for your contributions and professional competencies to grow significantly. Do you have any moments of feedback (giving or receiving) that have been etched in your professional journey you’d like to share?

Don’s Comments

Don HarmsFeedback is hard to give and hard to receive. Anna has so many great points in this week’s post. Early in my career, I too dreaded the end-of-year review. They almost always went well, but for some reason, just knowing I might get “negative” feedback made me feel anxious. About 5 years into my career, we had a leadership class on feedback. I don’t remember much about the class except the trainer repeated over and over again, “All feedback is good feedback.” She’d make us repeat it. The training was 2 days long and I think all she cared about was making sure we walked away with that ingrained in our minds.

This is not easy, but it has drastically changed the way I receive feedback. When I am being told something that feels unfair, exaggerated, and even completely unfounded, I say this to myself as I listen, “All feedback is good feedback.” It takes away my defensiveness. It stops me from wanting to defend myself, and it allows me to listen, to truly understand where this feedback is coming from. What is true about what they are saying? What nuggets of wisdom can I gain from their feedback no matter how unfair or wrong it might be? With this open attitude, you will always find ways to improve. Rather than walking away from feedback with an internal dialogue arguing your side, you are trying to learn a lesson, even a small lesson, and apply the learning to do your job better. If you do this, I guarantee you will excel at whatever comes your way.

And we all know how hard it is to receive feedback, so please follow what Anna said. Be positive. Be prepared. Allow time for questions and end with gratitude. Don’t forget how hard it is to be on the receiving end of feedback and do everything you can to make it a good experience for those you give feedback to.

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