Healthy Leaders


Feedback: The First and Most Important Thing to Say

Adrian PeiAdrian Pei

This is the third part in a series on giving and receiving feedback.

Part 1 – How to Make Feedback Fun (Really!)
Part 2 – How to Decide If and When to Give Feedback
Part 4 – The Difference Between Flattery and Appreciation
Part 5 – How to Deliver Feedback Effectively
Part 6 – Putting Negative Feedback into Perspective
Part 7 – How to Receive Feedback Graciously
Part 8 – Disagreement ≠ Defensiveness
Part 9 – Feedback and Ethnicity

In the last post, we discussed how to discern if and when to give feedback.  Now we’ll cover Feedback Principle # 3:

When feedback is appropriate, we need to learn to deliver it well, not avoid it because we’re afraid of doing it badly.

Delivering feedback well requires two things: courage and skill.  We need to be brave enough to give feedback when it’s necessary or important, and we need the skill set to do it thoughtfully and effectively.

I’ve found that most problems arise when we have one without the other.  Sometimes we charge into giving feedback when we’re fired up about something or someone, and don’t really take the time or thought to learn how to do it sensitively.  In other words, we have courage but lack skill.  Often we’re tempted to defend this by saying “we have good intentions.”  But good intentions aren’t enough … after we’ve told our friend that she has a weight problem, does it really make her feel better when we say, “I was just trying to help?”

However, I think the majority of the time we avoid giving feedback at all because we don’t want to mess things up.  Regardless of whether we have skill, we lack courage.  And this is why so many important conversations never happen, whether it’s employees addressing a communication breakdown with a co-worker or their boss, or family members getting to the root of why a fight happened.

On which side of the spectrum do you land?  Do you tend to have courage, but need to grow in skill?  Or do you not give enough feedback or have enough hard conversations, because you’re afraid of doing it poorly, or of what it might do to your relationships?

The good news is that either way, there’s something you can do about this!  We’ll cover some practical things you can do to deliver feedback with skill, and I’ll recommend some books and resources as well.  Let me start with something extremely simple that you can say that could save you a lot of grief before you attempt to deliver your next piece of feedback.

Try saying this:

“I really want to say this in a respectful way, but I’m still learning how to give feedback well.  I apologize for the parts that don’t come out well, and could you please tell me afterwards what I can improve for next time?”

How does reading that feel to you?  Liberating or empowering, hopefully?

Here are a few things this accomplishes:

This sounds incredibly simple, but it’s amazing how often this element is not part of a feedback conversation.

Again, so simple but incredibly important.

In other words …

Yes, we’re asking for their feedback … about our feedback!  It can set the tone for the entire conversation, from defensiveness to openness.  Again, when we give permission to others to help us through their feedback, they are more likely to open themselves to us as well.

Addressing the three things listed above can go a long way … in my opinion, it can eliminate 90% of the problems we tend to encounter during feedback conversations.  It’s not only more honoring of people … it’s more effective too

It’s something you can apply right away, in just two sentences … so try it and see how it works for you!

Check back for more on delivering feedback well soon.  Thanks for reading!

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Adrian Pei