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Giving & Receiving the Gift of Feedback

by Gary Bamberger on August 16, 2010

Manager giving feedback to an umpire.

Giving feedback is an important aspect of communicating with others. When you want to have meaningful relationships with others, you must open yourself up and risk giving and receiving feedback. Some of it will be positive reinforcement, some of it will be constructive feedback. All of it is important in figuring out how to deal with the people in your life.

When I first had management responsibilities, one of the most important lessons I learned was about giving feedback to others. I had put together a review that was tough and fair, at least in my opinion. I had only been managing this person for a few months and had a macro view of what she did. It turned out that she had a very different idea of her performance during the year. Of course, we hashed things out and managed to get past this episode.

I took away a couple of key facts from this adventure:

  • Level setting expectations (i.e. goal setting) and getting agreement on them is critical
  • Providing feedback frequently ensures that there are no surprises later on
  • Use quantitative measures whenever possible

I’m sure you have heard the quote, “All feedback is good feedback.” Personally, I agree with this. I accept feedback, both positive and constructive, as a gift from the other person. Positive feedback is essentially: (1) an acknowledgment of what you’ve done or who you’ve been; and (2) recognition for impacting someone else’s professional, personal or civic life. It’s an appreciation for your actions or being, and a request for more of the same. And a little bit of positive feedback goes a long way.

Constructive feedback is a powerful gift as well. When someone provides a critique of your actions, how do you choose to handle it? Do you become defensive? Do you deflect the “blame” for it like “Teflon”? Or do you choose to be grateful for the feedback? Do you embrace it as a gift, whether it was intended that way or not?

My Method

Here’s the method I’ve successfully used to provide feedback:

  1. Specific – be specific about what the person did
  2. Behavior – have specific examples of behaviors or actions you want to discuss
  3. Impact – tell the person what impact his/her behavior had on others, whether it be clients, other associates, someone else in your family or in the community
  4. Dialogue – listen and respond to the person’s questions and comments because this dialogue will help ensure you are both on the same page. Be willing to accept responsibility for your actions in creating the behavior. Perhaps you ignored it, avoided it, weren’t forceful enough when discussing it, etc.
  5. Timely – provide the feedback in a timely manner so it’s fresh in everyone’s mind
  6. Accountable – hold the person accountable by following up with him/her particularly when s/he commits to making changes

Another piece to the method for providing constructive feedback that I learned from Rapport Leadership International is to provide positive feedback using the method above, then follow up with the constructive feedback. So in essence, the conversation follows this pattern:

  1. Recognition for what that person did
  2. Here’s the impact that it had
  3. Here’s a suggestion for improving
  4. Clarifying conversation about the suggestion
  5. Commitment to make the changes.

This way, you give the complete picture to the person about his/her performance instead of just the constructive portion.

Receiving Feedback

When receiving constructive feedback, acknowledge the other person’s comments and paraphrase what the person has told you to ensure you understand the feedback. I’ve found that many people, myself included, have a difficult time accepting positive feedback and tend to down play their “worthiness” of the feedback. Really, a simple, “Thank you” will suffice. And it feels good to accept the positive feedback from someone else instead of working hard to deflect the acknowledgment.

Ultimately, you are at choice with regard to what you do with constructive feedback. You may choose to take it to heart and see it as an area to improve. You may choose to ignore or dismiss the feedback. Perhaps it’s not an area that you’re interested in developing as it doesn’t support your long-term goals or you’re not enthusiastic about the prospects of making those changes. You may also choose to do something in between. Again, the choice is yours, which puts you in a very empowered place!


Napoleon Lajoie and Honus Wagner shake hands

One of my clients had this experience using the method outlined above. An employee came in to her office and explained what happened on a particular job he had completed. The employee went above and beyond to satisfy the customer, although it wasn’t quite far enough from the customer’s perspective. My client provided the positive reinforcement for what he had done using the method provided above. She told him how his efforts had impacted the organization. Then she provided him with another option on how to handle this type of situation going forward. The employee left the office with a spring in his step because he received positive feedback. And, he was enthusiastic about using the new option in handling the client the next time he encounters a similar situation.

In a recent article about employee engagement posted on, Garry Kranz summarized a Gallup survey that found that managers who provided either positive or negative feedback had higher employee engagement than managers who provided no feedback. Why is employee engagement important? The article points out that, “Organizations with high engagement scores exceed their peers in nine areas of business performance, including customer loyalty, profits, productivity, quality, turnover and absenteeism. For instance, organizations with the highest engagement scores in Gallup’s database have an 83 percent chance of achieving above-average business performance. By contrast, organizations at the lowest levels of engagement have a 17 percent chance.”

And, what would the impact be to the personal and civic aspects of your life? How might your personal relationships change if you took the initiative to provide feedback to those important people in your life?

So, make a commitment to yourself to use this method for a week and take note of the results. Remember, if it’s uncomfortable to do this, that’s a signal that you’re growing. And please share your stories here so others can learn from your experiences.

Of course, I’m eager to hear your feedback, so please share it with me!  I will receive it from a perspective of it being  a gift from you.

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