Seeking Clarity When Giving Feedback

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Giving constructive feedback is challenging. It’s so challenging that 21% of managers avoid giving it. It’s so challenging that leaders directly ask executive coaches like Melody Wilding:

“How do I overcome the fear of giving feedback?”

To combat this stress, many feedback givers prepare for hours to ensure they are ready to communicate to the best of their abilities and in a way that will land effectively with the feedback receiver.

But in this well-intended prep, sometimes the feedback giver organizes all the parts but forgets to pause and create openings. In other words, they get so caught up in their delivery that they fail to create conversational space.

A elderly man sits at a desk. He is surrounded by thousands of trinkets, some organized but many not. Beyond the trinket room there is a hallway leading to a door outside.
All the feedback pieces, but do they see the space around the corner? | Source: Cameron Conaway. Image created using Magic Media by Canva

So, during the feedback conversation, the giver moves through their notes and rolls through their words but never asks the receiver if what they are saying is clear or if it makes sense to them. The space between is just as important. As poet and leadership educator Judy Sorum Bloom wrote:

“So building fires / requires attention / to the spaces in between, as much as to the wood.”

While I encourage feedback receivers to take responsibility by asking for clarity when anything about the feedback is unclear, it is also the responsibility of the feedback giver. After delivering feedback, you may find some magic can happen if you pause and ask some form of these questions:

  1. Was I clear in describing what I’m looking for? [pause]
  2. Would it be helpful if I described it differently? [pause]
  3. Do you have any questions about what I mean here? [pause]