Giving Feedback as Directive vs. Guide

Home » Feedback Tips Weekly » Giving Feedback as Directive vs. Guide

“If feedback isn’t viewed as discussable, it should be positioned as a directive.”

— Mychelle Mollot

Mychelle’s comment was in response to when I asked my LinkedIn connections:

“What’s your advice for receiving and ultimately choosing what to do with feedback?”

Her insight has stuck with me ever since.

It clarified why constructive feedback must be intentionally positioned for an intended outcome. Sometimes, that outcome may be directive, such as when you ask for an immediate action like:

“Here’s what I noticed about X. You can improve it by doing Y. Do you see what I mean, and can you change X immediately?”

At other times, the feedback is less about direct and obvious action to take right now and more about guiding some future behavior or output toward what is perceived as a better future, such as:

“On our last client call, I appreciated your insights but felt you didn’t allow space for me to share my own. Can we work on better balancing our voices in future calls?”

There are also times when, in the course of a conversation, where feedback communication is a mix of both directive and open-to-conversation guidance:

“This is the second project we’ve delivered late. This can’t become our new norm, so on the next project I need you to check in with me more regularly so we can improve how we flag and address potential increases in scope. Can you book us for recurring calls every Monday? Also, based on your perspective, how else can we ensure we deliver our next project on schedule?”

This mixed-intention feedback communication type happens often and can mean both the feedback giver and receiver achieve only one of their goals. As we learned in Recency Bias in Feedback Relationships, the topic you covered last may get the bulk of the receiver’s intention, even if it’s not the most urgent or essential.

Drawing clear feedback outcome lines

As a feedback giver, a crucial part of your role is understanding what outcome you want and ensuring you communicate feedback in a way that makes this super clear.

If the feedback must be implemented by Tuesday at noon, state that and ask your colleague to follow up with you for a review after completion. If you find yourself quickly moving on to the next part of your feedback, pause to ensure you and the feedback receiver are aligned on what’s expected for the first part.

If, on the other hand, the feedback is more of a guiding conversation (similar to the coaching feedback type), it won’t be fair to the receiver if you check in with them the following week and vent your frustration about why they didn’t achieve X. You never told them when to achieve X.

It’s normal and natural for mixed intentions to surface during constructive feedback conversations. However, it’s vital to not let these mixed intentions lead to outcome confusion.


Continue reading

  1. Composting Received Feedback
  2. Power and Lane Blurring in Feedback
  3. Why Checking In After Giving Feedback is So Powerful