The Challenge of Giving (and Receiving) Meaningful Feedback: It's Like Walking a Tightrope - Fresh Concepts Skip to main content

The Challenge of Giving (and Receiving) Meaningful Feedback: It’s Like Walking a Tightrope

Feedback helps us right our path as well as stay on course. Helpful feedback should make us think . . . about ourselves and about others.

Good communication revolves around the ability to give and receive feedback in a productive manner. As a coach, I give feedback regularly to individuals and teams. If my message is too harsh, it will be disregarded because it is wounding. If my message is too soft, it will not provoke growth and change. I struggle to split the difference and find middle ground. It is a tightrope I walk every day.

I ask for anonymous feedback from all participants after every presentation I give. The feedback I receive keeps me growing, occasionally lifts my spirits, and sometimes keeps me humble. No one is perfect but without honest and meaningful feedback, how can we get better?

Below are tips for giving and receiving feedback. While these tips may not contain new information, they are helpful reminders for me, and possibly you.


When Giving Feedback:

  1. Make it relevant. The purpose of meaningful feedback is to help someone improve. Make sure your feedback is aligned with the receiver’s purpose, goals, and desired impact. Bottom line: it’s not about you, it’s about them.
  2. Be specific. Vague feedback, for example, “Your proposal lacked clarity” has less impact than specific feedback. Specific feedback, “You need to create a proposal template that lists specific steps for the client as well as a call to action that’s connected to a timeline” is dramatically more helpful and sets a specific benchmark for future performance. Is the feedback related to a trend or is it a one-time issue that needs to be addressed?
  3. Listen. What is the other side of the story? When delivering feedback, it is important to listen to the receiver and hear the pieces of the story that you may not know. If there are obstacles that lead to less than ideal performance, how can you help to eliminate these obstacles?
  4. Be kind. Remember that it takes at least 5 positive comments to outweigh a negative one. Being sensitive to the feelings and human circumstances of others is critical. Did a personal issue contribute to a lack of performance?


When Getting Feedback:

  1. Look for a pattern.When receiving constructive criticism ask yourself, “Have I heard this before?” Instead of chalking it up to “it’s just the way I am” (whether that be talking too fast, interrupting others, or seeming preoccupied when others need your help), ask yourself, “How can I minimize this behavior?” Change is hard . . . but not impossible. Take note when you hear multiple comments related to the same issue. Who could help you change this pattern of behavior?
  2. Be open-minded.It is easy to think, “This is their problem.” Resist this temptation. Ask yourself, “What would it be like to be in my critique-er’s shoes? What is their motivation for giving me this feedback? How is this negatively impacting their work, life, or emotional state?
  3. Listen. Of course, right? You must listen to the feedback, even when the feedback is not 100% accurate, warranted, or welcome. Remember how difficult it is to give appropriate feedback and cut your feedback-giver some slack. (This is especially true if your feedback-giver is less seasoned.) Check yourself for defensiveness. It is not becoming (to anyone). Sadly, defensiveness, and its partner in crime – hostility – can surface during moments when feedback initially appears off the mark.
  4. Be kind.Always (always, always) thank your feedback-giver. This is both critically important and difficult to do. Be sure to have a canned response for feedback that is difficult to digest immediately. For example, “I am so glad you’ve shared this with me. Thank you. Obviously, my intent was not to FILL IN THE BLANK (confuse you, be hostile, seem unfriendly). I will certainly give your comments some thought.”


Giving and receiving feedback is challenging! Be sure to walk this tightrope carefully. Falling in the direction of anger, indifference, or disregard – whether you are giving or receiving feedback – can have negative repercussions. Do you know someone who is an expert feedback giver or receiver? Send this on to them with your thanks! Positive feedback is always a day brightener.

Interested in learning more about how leaders can use feedback to catapult their teams to greater success? Check out my newest book FRESH Leadership: 5 Skills to Transform You and Your Team.

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