By Gonzalo Cordova
I am sure you have heard that feedback is a gift. We all are in positions to give and to receive feedback, regardless of where we stand in the organization. Unfortunately, more often than not, I have found that feedback givers do not give it properly or often enough while feedback receivers do not appreciate its value. In this article, I explore the reasons why feedback is poorly utilized and how to exploit its maximum potential.
Let’s start discussing some practical reasons why people shy away from giving and receiving feedback:
Questionable return on investment – Feedback is not free. Feedback givers and
receivers need to invest time to make feedback count. Unless feedback provides
tangible value for both parties, it is only natural for people to avoid feedback.
The emotional toll – When you give feedback, even when it is properly done, there is
always the chance for an emotional, sometimes even heated, reaction to the
feedback you provide. Thus, some don’t give feedback to avoid conflict. On the
other hand, feedback could leave the receiver feeling hurt, confused, or even angry.
Limited scope – Some people incorrectly believe that feedback is limited to pointing
out areas where someone needs improvement. This misconception gives feedback
a bad reputation. It turns feedback into a tool to exclusively point out what we do
wrong, which research has shown is taxing on both the giver and the receiver of
Lack of know how – Not everyone knows how to give and to receive feedback
properly. Poorly delivered and received feedback leads to questioning the value of
feedback and uncomfortable confrontations. This naturally discourages people
from experimenting with feedback as a developmental tool.
Understanding why people avoid feedback is helpful, but there is more to the feedback story. Let’s explore now how we turn feedback into a powerful professional development tool:
Give feedback a chance – We need to embrace feedback considering its maximum
potential. Done properly, feedback enables us to identify key behaviors that are
worth starting, stopping, or continuing. This leads us to rely on and develop
capabilities that will support career success.
Provide timely feedback – Timely feedback means that it needs to be delivered as
soon as possible so the feedback remains relevant and impactful. Many refer to
timely feedback as “feedback on the spot”. However, notice that timely feedback or
“feedback on the spot” does not mean “instant”. Instant feedback might not be
meaningful. For example, positive or developmental feedback on communication is
better to be given after a presentation is over to avoid making the feedback receiver
feel distracted, uncomfortable, or even embarrassed.
Deliver factual feedback – There are multiple approaches to do this. My favorite tool
to provide feedback factually is the Situation, Behavior, and Impact (SBI) framework
(a simple Google search provides multiple sources to learn about SBI). This
framework removes the subjectivity from feedback because it involves only facts
from the giver’s point of view. This framework also brings to light that the feedback
giver needs to be mindful of the message he or she is delivering, so the feedback
Receive feedback as any other gift – The better you are at receiving feedback, the
more comfortable people will be giving you feedback. As you receive feedback,
listen to understand. Ask clarifying questions, but do not try to justify yourself or
your actions. Remember, you do not even need to agree with the feedback you
receive. A simple “thank you, I will think about your feedback” goes a long way.
Act upon feedback – After you have received feedback, think about what you learned
and how this applies to you. Treat feedback as a thought that needs to be
processed and potentially turned into action. I would encourage you to categorize
the feedback you receive into three buckets: use it right away, defer it for future
consideration, or discard it if you think it does not apply to you. Yes, you read the
last sentence correctly. Not all feedback deserves action even when it is delivered
Keep at it – This applies to both feedback givers and receivers. Feedback needs to be
a constant exercise in the back of our minds. Feedback needs to organically
permeate through our daily routines with the intention to make each other better
in the process.
It is my hope that the information above will allow you to treat feedback as a valuable tool to help each other while we navigate our complex professional journeys. Most importantly, I hope you do not cringe the next time you give or receive feedback!