The Feedback Giver’s Mindset

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The feedback giver’s mindset should be less about what do I need out of this and more about what does the receiver need to make effective use of this.

It may appear to be a subtle shift but, in my experience, many feedback givers can get so caught up in their own performance — particularly in what they say — that they lose track of the ultimate purpose of feedback: helping someone adjust to become more effective.

What many think makes for great feedback: What they say. What actually does: The relationship they've built, How they say it, What they say, How they listen, When they say it, Where they say it

To do that, the feedback giver must think about optimizing everything they think the receiver will need to become more effective. This means building a psychologically safe relationship over time, but there are also some things feedback givers can do in the moment of actually delivering feedback.

Setting up your feedback

In one study, constructive feedback was deemed far more successful when the giver opened with this statement:

“I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.”

Why? Because this comment achieves two things. First, it lets the receiver know this is also about the giver’s high performance expectations. When this goes unsaid, many receivers assume it’s purely about their own poor performance, which can feel disempowering.

Second, it assures the receiver that the giver believes in their ability to improve. This is especially important because, for various reasons, we all have different levels of confidence and are on different parts of the fixed mindset/growth mindset continuum.

How we tend to think of fixed and growth mindsets: Fixed Mindset is in one small box, Growth Mindset is in another. How it usually works: a long continuum shows a range of fixed mindset and growth mindset possibilities.

As Professor Adam Grant says, these 19 words “completely changes the tone of the conversation” by conveying: ‘I’m not attacking you, I’m not judging you. I’m here to coach you and help you grow.'”

Think about impact rather than outcome

The outcome is important, but it’s typically short-term. If, as a feedback giver, you can think about what I call “Impact After Receipt” (IAR), you’ll be setting yourself up to give feedback that achieves your short-term outcome while setting up the receiver for longer-term improvement.

While this isn’t always possible, thinking about IAR can get you in the habit of thinking about the receiver’s longer-term professional development. IAR is inspired by the NFL metric of Yards After Catch (YAC), which represents how many yards the receiver typically achieves after a catch. In this sense, you are the quarterback “throwing” the feedback to the receiver. You might ask:

  • Does your receiver have to dive on the ground to receive the feedback, or was it thrown to where they are going in their professional or career development path?
  • What can they do after they receive it?
  • Will they remember and be able to apply this feedback years from now?


Keep learning, fellow feedback givers:

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