Constructive Feedback Communication: A Complete Guide

Ready to improve how you give and receive constructive feedback at work? You are in the right place.

Author: Professor Cameron Conaway

Last Update: April 28, 2024

Cameron Conaway stands with palms together and the words: Constructive Feedback. Examples, Tips, and Videos on: Negative Feedback, Positive Feedback, Giving Feedback, Receiving Feedback, Asking for Feedback, Employee Feedback, Customer Feedback, Using Feedback

Key Takeaways:

Welcome to your comprehensive guide on constructive feedback communication! Here, you’ll discover valuable insights and practical tips to enhance your feedback communication skills across various domains, including:

  1. Understanding Feedback: Learn about the nuances of feedback communication, including negative and positive feedback, giving and receiving feedback, asking for feedback, and navigating employee and customer feedback.
  2. Personal Experience: Benefit from my firsthand experiences as an author, professor, former athlete, and team leader at a Fortune 100 company, who emphasizes the transformative power of constructive feedback in personal and professional growth.
  3. Expert Perspectives: Gain insights from renowned figures like Dr. Angela Duckworth, Dr. Steven Levitt, Billie Jean King, and Tim Grover, who underscore the indispensable role of feedback in learning and success across various fields.
  4. Challenges and Solutions: Acknowledge the challenges associated with feedback communication, such as stress and ineffective communication, and explore strategies to navigate them effectively.
  5. Learning Progression: Embark on a structured learning journey, starting with understanding the fundamentals of constructive feedback and gradually advancing to mastering feedback communication skills through practical examples, evidence-based tips, and instructional videos.
  6. Diverse Resources: Explore a wealth of resources, including constructive feedback examples, evidence-based tips, instructional videos, and comprehensive chapters covering various aspects of feedback communication.
  7. Continuous Improvement: Embrace feedback as a catalyst for continuous improvement in both personal and professional realms, and engage in ongoing learning and practice to refine your feedback communication skills.

Note: Before you begin, I recommend signing up for Feedback Tips Weekly, a LinkedIn newsletter that will help you keep your feedback development top of mind.


By engaging with this resource, you’re equipping yourself with the knowledge and tools to become a more effective feedback communicator, thereby unlocking new opportunities for growth and success in all aspects of your life. Welcome to your feedback learning journey!

On a personal note: constructive feedback has tremendously impacted my life. Receiving constructive feedback is how I’ve improved in almost everything I’ve ever done, and giving constructive feedback is how I’ve helped others become more effective in what they want to do. As I’ve talked to high-performing people around the world, I’ve learned how typical my experience is.

The academic research we’ll cover here backs up the vital role feedback plays in our performance development. As do leaders in seemingly every domain.

Psychology professor and MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient Dr. Angela Duckworth puts it this way:

“We only learn with feedback.”

Influential economist Dr. Steven Levitt puts it like this:

“The key to learning is feedback. It is nearly impossible to learn without it.”

Trailblazing American tennis legend Billie Jean King sees just about everything as feedback:

“A mistake to me equals… I’m getting feedback.”

Tim Grover, the legendary trainer of Michael Jordan, sees an obsession with seeking and adopting great feedback as a key to success. As he says:

“The most successful are the most coachable.”

However, you may have noticed that feedback communication can be pretty challenging. It can cause you tremendous stress, and it can be how you cause others tremendous stress. By learning how constructive feedback works and how to participate in feedback communications skillfully, you can amplify the profoundly positive power of feedback while minimizing the stress and even harm you experience and cause due to how you give and receive it.

There’s a reason this resource contains dozens of constructive feedback examples, hundreds of evidence-based feedback tips, and hours of videos: improving as a feedback communicator takes practice and time. But if you want to improve perhaps the most underrated and neglected part of your personal and professional development, you’re in the right place.

To get started, I recommend the following learning progression:

  1. What is constructive feedback?
  2. What is feedback communication?
  3. Watch Constructive Feedback

After that, bravo! I think it’s fair to say that you now understand constructive feedback more than 99.9% of the world’s population. Through your learning, you’ve also dramatically improved your feedback communication skills. Now, it’s all about putting the reps in. You might find it helpful to bookmark this page so you can come back and browse through its various parts however you find helpful. Those dedicated to improving their feedback communication skills like going deeper in some areas or returning to refresh in others. Here are some of the most popular areas:

  1. Explore the chapters and choose your own journey
  2. Nerd out on this feedback definition video
  3. 3 primary feedback types
  4. 18 feedback examples for those types
  5. 33 feedback types with examples
  6. 3 important feedback terms
  7. Explore the constructive feedback FAQs
  8. Feedback Facilitator Certificate Program sign up

What is constructive feedback?

Constructive feedback is a response to a person's activity with the purpose of helping them adjust to become more effective.

Constructive feedback is a response to a person’s activity with the purpose of helping them adjust to become more effective. Types of constructive feedback can include evaluative feedback, appreciative feedback, coaching feedback — and many more, as you’ll soon learn.

With that constructive feedback definition in mind, I encourage you to close your eyes for one minute and bring to the forefront of your memory a positive experience you had in receiving feedback. It could be an insight from a coach that improved your performance, a comment from a therapist or loved one that helped you better understand yourself, or maybe a colleague expressing their gratitude for your work.

What came to mind? What made the feedback experience positive? Was it because the feedback was specific positive feedback, or was it negative feedback that was super helpful? Before you continue reading, prime your mind to go deep with this visualization on feedback. It includes many of the most common words participants in my feedback trainings use when describing their experiences with feedback.

FEEDBACK and the most common words associated with feedback: Positive, Brave, Evidence, Improve, Negative, Insightful, Stressful, Vital, Avoided

I encourage you now to work through the exercise again, this time thinking about a challenge you had in giving feedback. Perhaps the challenge was that you avoided giving the feedback, or maybe you gave it but it didn’t land well with the feedback receiver. Try to go one level deeper to get to the root. What would you say was the cause of this challenge?

In most settings, there exists an assumption that we all know how to give and receive feedback effectively. The assumption is apparent in how few organizations invest in comprehensive employee feedback training. It’s also apparent in how, until this 2023 article about feedback literacy, the business world hasn’t had a clear definition for feedback or a term to describe what it means to have a general understanding of feedback.

As a result, and as the many academic studies we will explore in this guide suggest, employees struggle immensely to share knowledge and develop in their roles. And as we touched on in our imagining exercise, this lack of growth isn’t the only downside. Lacking feedback skills can also cause stress for employees, so much so that it saps their productivity, morale, and can even cause them to leave the company.

In today’s competitive business environment, resilient organizations are those that know how to leverage the experience and knowledge of their individuals to build a continuously-learning collective genius. On a basketball team, it could be the veteran player who now comes off the bench but does her best work while on the bench because that’s where she mentors the next generation. On a Fortune 500 leadership team, it could be an HR leader who holds quarterly development conversations with his direct reports — psychologically safe conversations in which he grows as much from upward feedback as his direct reports do from the feedback he shares with them.

Due in part to these feedback assumptions, those who primarily give feedback are often assumed to be great at it because they are typically in a more senior position. And those typically on the receiving end get advice that barely scratches the surface as it condescendingly encourages them to “make eye contact” and “say thank you” — as though receiving feedback is more about the appearance of receiving feedback than actually receiving it.

So I welcome you to this radical little page where feedback is explored in its various complexities and with the unshakeable belief that improving feedback literacy is vital for our personal and professional development.


What is feedback communication?

Feedback communication is the verbal and nonverbal ways we respond to actions, behaviors, and performance. Skillful feedback communication involves interpersonal and intrapersonal development.

Feedback communication is the verbal and nonverbal ways we respond to actions, behaviors, and performance. Skillful feedback communication involves interpersonal and intrapersonal development.


Constructive Feedback Course

For perhaps the world’s most comprehensive, evidence-based, and free video course on improving your feedback communication skills, watch Constructive Feedback, the 2+ hour feedback training video below. If you prefer, you can also watch it on YouTube in the following ways:

  1. As the full online course
  2. In smaller sections as a playlist

Transcript | Playlist on YouTube


Constructive Feedback Communication – The Chapters

The following chapters and associated videos will help reinforce your understanding of constructive feedback. While the chapters loosely build on each other (for example, Chapter 1 begins with a comprehensive look at how we define feedback and dozens of feedback types and terms), feel free to explore them according to your needs. You can navigate to each chapter by clicking the cards below.

I hope you find this resource helpful, and I hope you’ll provide feedback via email to feedback@cameronconaway.com if you discover areas where it can better meet your needs. Enjoy your feedback learning journey! You deserve it and the world needs it.

Dusty trail through brush with text overlay: Chapter 1: What is feedback?
Blue skies and blooming cactus with text overlay: Chapter 2: Feedback Myths & Feedback Research
Snowy landscape with snow-covered house and text overlay: Chapter 3: Common Barriers
Dry desert hills with text overlay: Chapter 4: How to Give Feedback
Grasses in the foreground lead to beach and ocean. Text overlay: Chapter 5: How to Receive Feedback
Rolling mountains at dusk with text overlay: Chapter 6: How to Process Feedback
A sailboat in still waters with text overlay: Chapter 7: How to Use Feedback
A white, snowy landscape with colorful bug and text overlay: Chapter 8: How to Ask for Feedback
Hikers on sand dunes with text overlay: Chapter 9: How to Create a Feedback Culture

Chapter 1: What is Feedback?

Transcript

Note: if you’ve watched or listened to the video above titled, What is Feedback?, you can move to Chapter 2: Feedback Myths and Feedback Research. Be sure to download the feedback types and terms PDF before you go.

According to a few keyword search tools, there are 1,000,000 global monthly searches for “feedback.” And that number doesn’t include this query’s many variations, which could be: “what is feedback?” or “feedback definition.” A journey down this path can lead to all types of feedback definitions, from the human-to-human, behavior-based feedback we are addressing here to feedback related to self-regulatory biological systems or electrical devices.

Keyword Overview: Feedback. Total Volume: 1,000,000 (HIGH)

Unfortunately, many books on management, and indeed many dedicated entirely to our type of feedback, prefer talking around the definition of feedback rather than providing one directly. Then, after chapters and chapters of insights on how to give and receive it better, readers will get something like, “The purpose of feedback is to help others improve.”

That simplicity of purpose is excellent, but much is lost in the lack of nuance. Suppose you’ve explored the academic literature on feedback. In that case, you may have come across this often-cited definition in Professor Arkalgud Ramaprasad‘s 1983 Behavioral Science paper titled On the definition of feedback:

“Feedback is information about the gap between the actual level and the reference level of a system parameter which is used to alter the gap in some way.”

I love this definition’s focus on recognizing and altering “the gap”; this framing has stuck with me for years and, to this day, is often the lens through which I view the feedback relationship. However, reflecting on it over the years and presenting it to others who have told me it feels too jargon-heavy for a general audience, what with “system parameter” and “reference level,” I no longer lead with it when attempting to define feedback for others.

After reading many books and hundreds of academic papers on feedback, I developed a definition that resonates with a broader range of audiences. I’m sharing it again because it’s important to remember as we progress and for those who – I guess because of their passionate zeal to dive in? – may have skipped our Introduction above. Here’s how we define feedback:

Feedback is a response to a person’s activity with the purpose of helping them adjust to become more effective. Feedback comes in various forms, including evaluative (how you did and where you are), appreciative (how you are valued and recognized), and coaching (how you can improve).

Let’s briefly unpack three parts:

“is a response to a person’s activity”

This part centers that there was a stimulus and a corresponding response, and that it had to do with a person’s activity. Response is intentionally vague here because it can range a gamut that includes everything from an audience’s standing ovation to an in-depth conversation with a colleague.

“with the purpose of helping them adjust”

The purpose of feedback is to be helpful. As you’ve likely learned through experience, having the best intentions doesn’t necessarily mean things will go smoothly. You can have great intentions and still either deliver terrible feedback or deliver feedback terribly. Also of note here is that the feedback is about helping the other person adjust. Adjust is also a bit vague because this adjustment could range from feedback intended to adjust a teammate’s interpersonal behavior to feedback meant to adjust the hip rotation on someone’s golf swing.

“various forms”

Part of the challenge in defining feedback involves addressing all it can be. Is it the compliment you received in the morning from your yoga instructor, the not-so-great performance feedback score (the one tied to your bonus) that you received from your manager in the afternoon, or your daughter’s glee when you read The Very Hungry Caterpillar before bed? Yes, all of those can be considered feedback. “Various forms” leaves space for the many other forms, while naming three of the most common types of feedback (evaluative, appreciative, and coaching) makes the definition feel real.

Let’s explore those three types in greater detail.

The 3 Primary Feedback Types

Types of feedback: Evaluative (how you did and where you are), Appreciative (how you are valued and recognized), and Coaching (how you can improve)

As you progress through the chapters, there will be many references to the three types of feedback: evaluative, appreciative, and coaching. While your initial research may have explored many types of constructive feedback – don’t worry, we will explore those below – I’ve found these three feedback types beneficial for placing the many types into categorical buckets.

Note: These three types come from Harvard Law School faculty members Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, who detailed them beautifully in their 2014 book Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well. If you’re passionate about feedback communications, this book should be on your shelf. Speaking of books, Feedback Fundamentals and Evidence-Based Best Practices by Dr. Brodie Gregory is also pretty great.

Here is how we define each of the three feedback types.

1. Evaluative feedback

Evaluative Feedback: Helps you see how did and where you are

Evaluative feedback helps you see how you did and where you are. It is evaluative because it compares how you did to how you could have done it. Recall Professor Ramaprasad’s “the gap between the actual level and the reference level.”

2. Appreciative feedback

Appreciative Feedback: Helps you know you are valued and recognized.

Appreciative feedback helps you know you are valued and recognized.

3. Coaching feedback

Coaching Feedback: Helps point the way to how you can improve

The coaching feedback type helps point the way to how you can improve.

18 Feedback Examples

Examples of evaluative feedback

  1. At the end of the quarter, you drove 10% fewer marketing leads than you forecasted.
  2. A direct report tells you: “You are the best leader I’ve ever worked with.”
  3. You did not meet the qualifying standards to participate in the Boston Marathon.
  4. You moved to #5 on a Duolingo leaderboard.
  5. Your formal bid in response to a Request for Proposal (RFP) was selected.
  6. Your manager says you are in the top 5% percent of all performers.

See below for these evaluative feedback examples as cards. Click each card to see the larger version in a separate tab.

Notice the variation of these examples. We have a positive but rather vague comment from a colleague next to the more specific example of missing your quarterly numbers. These are still evaluative because they directly or indirectly contain a comparative data point.

You may be asking, “Wait just a second, isn’t that comment from the direct report also the appreciative type of feedback?” Indeed, you are correct! The types of feedback can blur into each other; at times, it can feel like the feedback types exist on a spectrum. Let’s zoom out a bit to add context to this example.

Let’s say this comment was made during a quarterly performance review, and it was in direct response to when you asked for feedback about your leadership since joining the team six months ago. This comment now shifts more toward evaluative – with the subtle comparative data point being “other leaders they’ve worked with.” It can move further into the evaluative camp if specific details are provided about how you stack up next to leaders they’ve had in the past.

Examples of appreciative feedback

  1. Your basketball team’s center points to you in gratitude after that great pass.
  2. Your grandparent says, “I am so grateful for all you’ve done for us.”
  3. Your teacher praises you in class for always asking great questions.
  4. Upon returning from a dangerous military mission, one sergeant hugs another.
  5. A patron at the restaurant where you work leaves you a great tip.
  6. A colleague recognizes you in a Slack channel for going above and beyond.

See below for these appreciative feedback examples as cards. Click each card to see the larger version in a separate tab.

You’ll notice that appreciation can be spoken in words (as in examples 2 and 3) or go unspoken (examples 1, 4, and 5). Unlike Evaluative and Coaching, which can touch on negative areas, appreciation is positive. It motivates us. Keep in mind, however, that everybody wants different types of appreciation. Some, though they may not admit it and might blush as it happens, love to be appreciated in front of peers. For others, renewing their contract for another quarter may be all the appreciation they want or need.

As a leader, it’s critical to understand how those around you want to be appreciated. A great leader, for example, would not frequently embarrass a colleague by praising them publicly when that is the last thing they would ever want.

We will explore one point in greater detail later: appreciative feedback is vital. While some erroneously view it as the fluffy form of feedback communication that nobody needs (indeed, 37% of the managers surveyed in this study don’t provide any praise at all), studies suggest that providing specific appreciation (including in the form of positive feedback) can improve employee satisfaction and development more than negative feedback.

Examples of coaching feedback

  1. A colleague tells you they loved the PowerPoint visuals you created, but to please make sure to use the company’s proprietary font. After a conversation, you both decide it will be great for you to take a course titled “Omnichannel Branding.”
  2. “Here’s what worked for me when I was in a similar position,” a colleague begins.
  3. An experienced ballet teacher offers advice on how to improve your grand plié.
  4. Through active listening and asking questions, one teammate helps another see that what they thought was the primary cause of failure was actually something else.
  5. A teammate says: “I’m not a great public speaker, but I noticed each time you looked down at your notes, it took away some of the great energy that kept your audience engaged. Are you open to working together so we can both improve?”
  6. “The last two projects you managed went over budget. It wasn’t by much, but here are some principles I always put in place to ensure this doesn’t happen.”

See below for these coaching feedback examples as cards. Click each card to see the larger version in a separate tab.

Similar to our other feedback types, you’ll notice some variety here. Coaching can be as direct as “here’s how to point your toes for the grand plié” or, as in the active listening example, more like a torch that helps light the way for another person to discover the answer for themselves. Coaching can be but isn’t necessarily dependent on titles or org chart position. We can all be coaches for each other.

The coaching feedback type perhaps most obviously corresponds to the “with the purpose of helping them adjust” part of our definition of constructive feedback. But the other types do as well. Consider how specific positive feedback can help a beginning writer see their strengths for the first time or how knowing how you did on a project at work can help you improve on the next one.

The 33 Types of Feedback (With Feedback Examples)

Your experience and research may have exposed you to many other types of constructive feedback. Below is a glossary of various types of feedback communication you may have heard or will come across, along with examples. These may be helpful to reference as you work through the following chapters.

Note #1: Bookmark this section for future reference by clicking the following link and creating a bookmark in your browser as you usually would: https://cameronconaway.com/feedback/#types. If you would like to use this feedback glossary offline, download the PDF here. If you want the definition and the three primary types all in 1 page, you can download that here.

Note #2: The lines between the feedback types can appear blurry. At times, such as with informal feedback and unplanned feedback, it might be helpful to see each type as part of a continuum.

Click each term below to quickly jump to the definition.

  1. Planned feedback
  2. Informal feedback
  3. Unplanned feedback
  4. Real-time feedback
  5. Self-feedback
  6. Peer-to-peer feedback
  7. Customer feedback
  8. Employee feedback
  9. 360-degree feedback
  10. Upward feedback
  11. Downward feedback
  12. Positive feedback
  13. Negative feedback
  14. Constructive feedback
  15. Feedforward
  16. Positive feedforward
  17. Negative feedforward
  18. Destructive feedback
  19. Oral feedback
  20. Written feedback
  21. Visual feedback
  22. Automated feedback
  23. Encouragement
  24. Formative feedback
  25. Summative feedback
  26. Criticism
  27. Technical Feedback
  28. Referent Feedback
  29. Normative Feedback
  30. Performance Feedback
  31. Social Feedback
  32. Job/Career Progression Feedback
  33. Feedback to one in a group setting

Note: 27-31 come from and are inspired by the work of Dr. Elizabeth W. Morrison‘s 1993 paper in The Academy of Management Journal.

1. Planned feedback

Planned Feedback Definition. Planned feedback refers to any feedback session that is scheduled in advance. Often referred to as formal feedback, this type of feedback may occur at regular intervals, such as during quarterly or annual performance reviews or even within a day's notice. The benefit of a formal feedback session is that the primary feedback giver(s) and receiver(s) have a chance to prepare.

Planned feedback refers to any feedback communication session that is scheduled in advance. Often referred to as formal feedback, this type of feedback may occur at regular intervals, such as during quarterly or annual performance reviews or even within a day’s notice. The benefit of a formal feedback session is that the primary feedback giver(s) and receiver(s) have a chance to prepare.

Example: A customer experience (CX) team leader schedules a 90-minute quarterly performance review with each of their direct reports. The meeting invite includes an agenda detailing the topics to be covered. One of the topics reads: “Growth Opportunities – areas where you can grow + your thoughts on how I can grow.” This could be considered a formal feedback session.

2. Informal feedback

Informal Feedback Definition. Informal feedback is often considered the most common form of workplace feedback because it can occur anytime and come from anywhere in the organization. Although informal feedback is often thought of as differing from formal feedback in that it is not scheduled, it can include scheduling and planning elements (see Example #1 below). The benefit of good informal feedback is its timeliness. Sometimes, this type of feedback can be incorporated in minutes, leading to improved outcomes.

Informal feedback is often considered the most common form of workplace feedback because it can occur anytime and come from anywhere in the organization. Although informal feedback is often thought of as differing from formal feedback in that it is not scheduled, it can include scheduling and planning elements (see Example #1 below). The benefit of good informal feedback is its timeliness. Sometimes, this type of feedback can be incorporated in minutes, leading to improved outcomes.

Example #1: Employee A types up a long email to relay feedback to Employee B about their performance on a project. Employee A plans to send the email after Employee B is back from an international business trip.

Example #2: a junior designer conducted a stakeholder meeting and was tasked with creating a first draft of the company’s new brochure. Upon seeing the design on a shared digital whiteboard, the design lead quickly called the junior designer to share how excited they were about the direction. “Your use of white space is spectacular and ensures the viewer’s eyes are drawn to our calls-to-action. Great work. Might you be able to incorporate a similar design aesthetic in the footer? Otherwise, it feels like two different brands are colliding.”

3. Unplanned feedback

Unplanned Feedback Definition. Unplanned feedback is not scheduled in advance and occurs in real-time. Although it's often referred to as informal feedback, unplanned feedback differs in that it is truly spontaneous and in-the-moment. Therefore, the example of Employee A's conscious email would not be considered unplanned.

Unplanned feedback is not scheduled in advance and occurs in real-time. Although it’s often referred to as informal feedback, unplanned feedback differs in that it is truly spontaneous and in-the-moment. Therefore, Employee A’s conscious email above would not be considered unplanned.

Example: On a team call with many junior colleagues, Colleague A, also relatively junior, senses the conversation is going too “in the weeds” rather than focusing on getting alignment on “the big rock” which was the purpose of the call. “Team,” they say, “I like that we’re digging into the details, but I’m wondering if we should first get alignment on the overall direction?” The manager agrees. “Great point. Thank you for having the awareness to bring us back, Colleague A.”

The manager may even leverage this unplanned feedback communication type to reinforce the feedback to Colleague A in front of the team and create a teachable moment. “Team – I want to reiterate how great of a move that was by Colleague A. Down the road, you may find yourself on calls that ‘go down the rabbit hole’ as we did. It might feel awkward, but if a clear decision on a big topic has to be made, you can bring value by steering the conversation back to center as Colleague A did.”

4. Real-time feedback

Real-Time Feedback Definition. Real-time feedback occurs as the activity is happening. It can be planned (as in a collaborative working session) or unplanned (as in feedback received from the audience during a presentation).

Real-time feedback occurs as the activity is happening. It can be planned (as in a collaborative working session) or unplanned (as in feedback received from the audience during a presentation).

Example: the design lead mentioned earlier schedules a 30-minute call with the junior designer so they can work in real-time to improve the brochure.

5. Self-feedback

Self-Feedback Definition. Although informal feedback is often referred to as the most common, in all likelihood, self-feedback takes the crown. Self-feedback refers to the feedback in our minds as we critique, praise, and compare our performance. We may compare the speech we just gave next to an excellent TED Talk or the app functionality we’re building next to how our competitor did it.

Although informal feedback communication is often referred to as the most common, in all likelihood, self-feedback takes the crown. Self-feedback refers to the feedback in our minds as we critique, praise, and compare our performance. We may compare the speech we just gave next to an excellent TED Talk or the app functionality we’re building next to how our competitor did it.

Self-feedback can happen consciously (such as an employee who was just asked to rate their quarterly performance, also known as a self-appraisal) or unconsciously (such as an unhelpful and hypercritical thought process that may be related to traumatic events in childhood). Space for self-reflection is a key part of developing conscious self-feedback and helping to bring subconscious self-feedback to the surface so it can be worked with rather than reacted to.

6. Peer-to-peer feedback

Peer-to-Peer Feedback Definition. In the workplace, peer-to-peer feedback typically refers to feedback given and received by peers at an equal seniority level. Effective peer-to-peer feedback is built on several key pillars, including psychological safety (where each colleague feels respected and safe when sharing their thoughts) and a shared understanding of the feedback basics, including alignment on a feedback definition and a general baseline of feedback literacy.

In the workplace, peer-to-peer feedback typically refers to constructive feedback given and received by peers at an equal seniority level. Effective peer-to-peer feedback is built on several key pillars, including psychological safety (where each colleague feels respected and safe when sharing their thoughts) and a shared understanding of the feedback basics, including alignment on a feedback definition and a general baseline of feedback literacy.

Most academic research on peer-to-peer feedback occurs in the classroom through student-to-student feedback. The results make it overwhelmingly clear that students can learn a tremendous amount by providing feedback on each others’ work – sometimes even more than from feedback provided by the instructor. Recent research suggests the same is true with peer-to-peer feedback at work, with some studies suggesting that getting feedback from a few peers can be just as helpful or even better than getting feedback from a single expert. In the right context, peers collaborating on and providing constructive feedback about a project at work can reap immense benefits.

7. Customer feedback

Customer Feedback Definition. Customer feedback is feedback given by customers. It can occur in various forms, including customer satisfaction surveys, public customer reviews, and beta testing whereby a product or service is rolled out to a select group to provide feedback before a general release.

Customer feedback is feedback given by customers. It can occur in various forms, including customer satisfaction surveys, public customer reviews, and beta testing whereby a product or service is rolled out to a select group to provide feedback before a general release.

Related Resource:

8. Employee feedback

Employee Feedback Definition. Employee feedback is a broad term that you may hear used in multiple ways. It commonly refers to feedback given by a manager to a direct report, but it can also refer to any feedback given and received between colleagues regardless of where they sit on the org chart. Additionally, an organization’s leaders may request “employee feedback” about, for example, how a new procurement process is working.

Employee feedback is a broad term that you may hear used in multiple ways. It commonly refers to feedback given by a manager to a direct report, but it can also refer to any feedback given and received between colleagues regardless of where they sit on the org chart. Additionally, an organization’s leaders may request “employee feedback” about, for example, how a new procurement process is working.

9. 360-Degree Feedback

360-Degree Feedback Definition. 360-degree feedback (often written as 360° degree and also referred to as multi-source feedback or multi-source peer appraisal) is a process for employees to give and receive feedback to each other in an anonymous way. As the name suggests, the purpose is to improve employee performance by helping them receive feedback from 360 degrees – that is, from as many angles as possible (including self-feedback). Though the potential downsides are many, the proposed benefit and the reason this method became so popular is, at least in theory, it allows employees to get a broader range of feedback perspectives rather than, for example, getting feedback exclusively from their manager who may only see one side of their work. The collected feedback is then used to inform an employee development plan.

360-degree feedback (often written as 360° degree and also referred to as multi-source feedback or multi-source peer appraisal) is a process for employees to give and receive feedback to each other in an anonymous way. As the name suggests, the purpose is to improve employee performance by helping them receive feedback from 360 degrees – that is, from as many angles as possible (including self-feedback). Though the potential downsides are many, the proposed benefit and the reason this method became so popular is, at least in theory, it allows employees to get a broader range of feedback perspectives rather than, for example, getting feedback exclusively from their manager who may only see one side of their work. The collected feedback is then used to inform an employee development plan.

10. Upward feedback

Upward Feedback Definition. Upward feedback is feedback given by a direct report to their manager. It can also refer to any feedback given by a more junior employee to a more senior employee (this includes skip-level feedback, which would be between a junior employee and their direct supervisor's manager).

Upward feedback is constructive feedback given by a direct report to their manager. It can also refer to any feedback given by a more junior employee to a more senior employee (this includes skip-level feedback, which would be between a junior employee and their direct supervisor’s manager).

11. Downward feedback

Downward Feedback Definition. Downward feedback is feedback given by a manager to their direct report. It can also refer to any feedback given by a more senior employee to a junior employee.

Downward feedback is feedback given by a manager to their direct report. It can also refer to any feedback given by a more senior employee to a junior employee.

12. Positive feedback

Positive Feedback Definition. Positive feedback is how we know we are doing well. This can come in various forms, ranging from a colleague's praise to an automated dashboard that turns the numbers green when you've met or exceeded your goal.

Positive feedback is how we know we are doing well. This can come in various forms, ranging from a colleague’s praise to an automated dashboard that turns the numbers green when you’ve met or exceeded your goal.

For decades, feedback communications research has proven the benefits of positive feedback. Effective positive feedback is specific (it goes beyond “great job”) and can also give employees a glimpse into a strength they may not know about.

Example: “I’m not sure if you know this, but you are a riveting public speaker. Your slides are clear and engaging, and your passion for the topic shines through. I especially appreciate how you engage your audience with questions.”

Related Resource:

13. Negative feedback

Negative Feedback Definition. Negative feedback is how we see our gaps, those areas where we can improve. This can come in various forms, including from a friend who saw our action and commented they they felt we can do better.

Negative feedback is how we see our gaps, those areas where we can improve (remember Professor Ramaprasad’s definition earlier?). In this sense, negative feedback can be beneficial. However, for various reasons we will explore, folks often fear giving and receiving it. Working through this fear can be challenging, but there can be tremendous growth when you do.

Example: “Upon review of the copy, I think we missed the mark in addressing the primary pain point of our targeted audience. Can you try again, this time working to empathize with their current struggle to do X and positioning our product as the solution?”

14. Constructive feedback

Constructive Feedback Definition. This term seems to exist due to confusion or misconceptions around what the "negative" in negative feedback refers to. "Constructive" here implies helpfulness or usefulness, which based on our primary definition is the general purpose of feedback.

This term seems to exist due to confusion or misconceptions around what the “negative” in negative feedback refers to. “Constructive” here implies helpfulness or usefulness, which based on our primary definition is the general purpose of feedback. I still occasionally struggle with the term constructive feedback because it reads to me like “feedback feedback.”

Still, if we keep in mind that we all have different levels of feedback literacy, it’s easy to see how this term can be helpful. In the following example, imagine if the word “constructive” was replaced by “negative.” Would the sentence change in meaning or feel more jarring for you?

“The call went well because the engineering team provided constructive feedback that I will include in our next release.”

Related Resource:

15. Feedforward

Feedforward Definition. Feedforward arose to ensure feedback takes a future-oriented approach. Effective feedback, however, does precisely that. It points to a past performance with the intention of improving future performance.

The term feedforward arose to ensure feedback takes a future-oriented approach. Effective feedback, however, does precisely that. It points to a past performance with the intention of improving future performance. In this sense, I believe it’s problematic to position feedforward as “the reverse” of feedback. Still, like “constructive feedback,” feedforward has its place depending on the audience. Reframing / rebranding feedback in this way can also help pull employees back into the feedback process if they’ve had terrible or even harmful experiences with it in the past.

16. Positive feedforward

Positive Feedforward Definition. Positive feedforward is positive feedback with a phrase that attaches it to the future.

Positive feedforward is positive feedback with a phrase that attaches it to the future.

Example: In your report last week, you did an excellent job of steering our focus to the highlights of your research. Great work. You might want to try that in your client presentation next week.

17. Negative feedforward

Negative Feedforward Definition. Negative feedforward is negative feedback with a phrase that attaches it to the future.

Negative feedforward is negative feedback with a phrase that attaches it to the future.

Example: Next time, I think it will be helpful to spend more time researching your audience. As long-time customers, they clearly didn’t need those first few overview slides. Before you present next week, let’s spend some time discussing the backgrounds of who will be in attendance so we can really nail the opening.

18. Destructive feedback

Destructive Feedback Definition. Destructive feedback goes against our primary definition of feedback in that it is ultimately either not helpful or not given with the intent to be helpful. While this type of feedback may include valuable parts, it comes in the form of harsh critique that may include ridiculing that breaks a person's confidence and thereby makes feedback adoption nearly impossible. There are long-term negative consequences to destructive feedback.

Destructive feedback goes against our primary definition of constructive feedback in that it is ultimately either not helpful or not given with the intent to be helpful. While this type of feedback communication may include valuable parts, it comes in the form of harsh critique that may include ridiculing that breaks a person’s confidence and thereby makes feedback adoption nearly impossible. There are long-term negative consequences to destructive feedback.

19. Oral feedback

Oral Feedback Definition. Oral feedback, often called verbal feedback, is delivered via synchronous or asynchronous talking. One potential benefit to oral feedback, particularly of the synchronous variety, is that participants can pick up on verbal and non-verbal gestures, which can help ensure ideas are conveyed clearly.

Oral feedback, often called verbal feedback, is delivered via synchronous or asynchronous talking. One potential benefit to oral feedback communication, particularly of the synchronous variety, is that participants can pick up on verbal and non-verbal gestures, which can help ensure ideas are conveyed clearly.

20. Written feedback

Written Feedback Definition. Written feedback is delivered in writing and can serve as a way to document feedback. Unlike oral feedback, where verbal and nonverbal gestures can be experienced, these elements are missing in written feedback.

Written feedback is delivered in writing and can serve as a way to document feedback. Unlike oral feedback, where verbal and nonverbal gestures can be experienced, these elements are missing in written feedback. As Sarah Gershman and Casey Mank wrote in Harvard Business Review:

“Therefore, when you deliver written feedback, make sure to include clear and unmissable signposts of warmth, encouragement, or gratitude. Writing is not the place for off the cuff feedback on someone’s performance that could have outsized impact or come across as harsher than you intended.”

21. Visual feedback

Visual Feedback Definition. Visual feedback can refer to various types of visual indicators - such as numbers turning green to represent an achieved goal or a designer's visual changes to a web design mockup.

In a corporate work context, visual feedback can refer to various types of visual indicators – such as numbers turning green to represent an achieved goal or a designer’s visual changes to a web design mockup.

22. Automated feedback

Automated Feedback Definition. Grammatical issues caught by Grammarly. A financial dashboard that adjusts based on parameters met. An online exam that provides insight as to why an answer is wrong. Even the feeling of pain when we touch a hot stove. These represent just a few of the many automatic/automated types of feedback that we experience throughout any given day.

Grammatical issues caught by Grammarly. A financial dashboard that adjusts based on parameters met. An online exam that provides insight as to why an answer is wrong. Even the feeling of pain when we touch a hot stove. These represent just a few of the many automatic/automated types of feedback that we experience throughout any given day.

23. Encouragement

Encouragement Feedback Definition. Encouragement is a type of motivational feedback that can help the receiver move into a stronger place of empowerment. Example phrasing: "I spent a lot of time thinking about this feedback about your performance because I see you as a shining star in this organization. You didn't land this particular deal, but with your skillset and passion you have so much potential and I see you landing far bigger and better deals in the future."

Encouragement is a type of motivational feedback communication that can help the receiver move into a stronger place of empowerment.

Example phrasing: “I spent a lot of time thinking about this feedback about your performance because I see you as a shining star in this organization. You didn’t land this particular deal, but with your skillset and passion you have so much potential and I see you landing far bigger and better deals in the future.”

24. Formative feedback

Formative Feedback Definition. Formative feedback is typically given in a low-stakes environment where the feedback receiver has a chance to redo or re-submit their work. In this sense, formative feedback refers to the type of feedback given over time to assess how a learner or worker is developing. Formative feedback differs from summative feedback in that summative comes near the end and typically addresses how much the learner learned or the worker developed.

Formative feedback is typically given in a low-stakes environment where the feedback receiver has a chance to redo or re-submit their work. In this sense, formative feedback refers to the type of feedback given over time to assess how a learner or worker is developing. Formative feedback differs from summative feedback in that summative comes near the end and typically addresses how much the learner learned or the worker developed.

25. Summative feedback

Summative Feedback Definition. Summative feedback is how we know how we did on an exam or a project – something that has reached an end. In the classroom, for example, a summative assessment typically attempts to measure all course material. This type of feedback is critical to help learners and workers understand how they did on a final or otherwise completed project.

Summative feedback is how we know how we did on an exam or a project – something that has reached an end. In the classroom, for example, a summative assessment typically attempts to measure all course material. This type of constructive feedback is critical to help learners and workers understand how they did on a final or otherwise completed project.

26. Criticism

Criticism Feedback Definition. Criticism can be considered a type of feedback that points only to the areas to be improved. It addresses and "critiques" a past performance without providing guidance or a future-oriented lens.

Criticism can be considered a type of feedback communication that points only to the areas to be improved. It addresses and “critiques” a past performance without providing guidance or a future-oriented lens. Many people instead say “constructive criticism” to ensure the criticism (which is negative feedback) takes on the qualities of our constructive feedback definition.

27. Technical Feedback

Technical Feedback: Feedback about how to perform or improve in specific job-related tasks.

Example: When saving your PowerPoint file, do X, Y, and Z.

Technical feedback is feedback communication about how to perform or improve in specific job-related tasks.

Example: When saving your PowerPoint file, do X, Y, and Z.

28. Referent Feedback

Referent Feedback: Feedback about what is expected of you in your role.

Example: We expect you to hit 3% regional growth this year.

Referent feedback is feedback about what is expected of you in your role.

Example: We expect you to hit 3% regional growth this year.

29. Normative Feedback

Normative Feedback: Feedback about the type of attitudes and behaviors you are expected to display.

Example #1: We do not send emails on the weekends. If you work on them, that's fine, but please schedule them to send during the work week.

Example #2: Next time, slow down a bit. We sweat the details here. It means our work takes longer than others, but we see quality as our competitive advantage.

Normative feedback is feedback about the type of attitudes and behaviors you are expected to display.

Example #1: We do not send emails on the weekends. If you work on them, that’s fine, but please schedule them to send during the work week.

Example #2: Next time, slow down a bit. We sweat the details here. It means our work takes longer than others, but we see quality as our competitive advantage.

30. Performance Feedback

Performance Feedback - Feedback specific to how others are evaluating your job performance.

Example: You missed your numbers this quarter. There's a perception that it's because you aren't committed to our model. What do you make of this and how can I help?

Performance feedback is constructive feedback specific to how others are evaluating your job performance.

Example: You missed your numbers this quarter. There’s a perception that it’s because you aren’t committed to our model. What do you make of this and how can I help?

31. Social Feedback

Social Feedback - Feedback about what's acceptable for work-related behavior that doesn't involve tasks or projects.

Example: I love the numbers you drove, but I'm concerned because you haven't attend a single company event.

Social feedback is feedback communication about what’s acceptable for work-related behavior that doesn’t involve tasks or projects.

Example: I love the numbers you drove, but I’m concerned because you haven’t attend a single company event.

32. Job/Career Progression Feedback

Job/career progression feedback is feedback about how to advance, get promoted, or otherwise progress in their role or in their career.

Example: Based on your performance and increased scope, I'm recommending your promotion to Vice President.

Job/career progression feedback is feedback about how to advance, get promoted, or otherwise progress in their role or in their career.

Example: Based on your performance and increased scope, I’m recommending your promotion to Vice President.

33. Feedback to one in a group setting

Feedback to one in a group setting: This type of feedback refers to when feedback is delivered in a group setting but targeted to one person in particular. This type of feedback can be given if you sense that an individual likes to be praised in this way and if the feedback, though directed to one, may benefit the group. Delivering negative feedback in this manner is typically not advised, particularly if it attempts to leverage the group's presence to further pressure or drive the point home to the individual receiver.

This type of feedback refers to when feedback is delivered in a group setting but targeted to one person in particular. This type of feedback can be given if you sense that an individual likes to be praised in this way and if the feedback, though directed to one, may benefit the group. Delivering negative feedback in this manner is typically not advised, particularly if it attempts to leverage the group’s presence to further pressure or drive the point home to the individual receiver.

3 Important Feedback Terms

  1. Feedback literacy
  2. Feedback-seeking behavior
  3. Feedback orientation

1. Feedback literacy

Feedback Literacy Definition. Feedback literacy is a term I use to refer to an individual’s understanding of and capacity to effectively give, receive, and process feedback. The term has research roots in the world of education, where it is primarily used to describe students' ability to receive feedback. I've expanded its use, pulling it into the business world so we have a broad term to describe the overall feedback capacities.

Feedback literacy is a term I use to refer to an individual’s understanding of and capacity to effectively give, receive, and process feedback. The term has research roots in the world of education, where it is primarily used to describe students’ ability to receive feedback. I’ve expanded its use, pulling it into the business world so we have a broad term to describe the overall feedback capacities.

Note: for additional reading about feedback literacy, see the following:

2. Feedback-Seeking Behavior (FSB)

Feedback-Seeking Behavior Definition. Feedback-seeking behavior refers to how individuals seek feedback either by reading the actions of others to infer what it means or by explicitly asking others for feedback. Since 1983, Dr. Susan Ashford and others have been researching feedback-seeking behavior. In organizations, feedback-seeking behavior generally leads to positive improvements in performance and the conversational feedback process.

Feedback-seeking behavior refers to how individuals seek feedback either by reading the actions of others to infer what it means or by explicitly asking others for feedback. Since 1983, Dr. Susan Ashford and others have been researching feedback-seeking behavior. In organizations, feedback-seeking behavior generally leads to positive improvements in performance and the conversational feedback process.

Note: you may also come across “indirect feedback seeking behavior.” This separates asking others (direct feedback seeking) from “reading the actions” (indirect feedback seeking) to highlight one’s efforts to intentionally observe the behavior of others for the sake of improving in a particular area.

Related Readings:

3. Feedback orientation

Feedback Orientation Definition. A classic concept from academic HR literature, feedback orientation "…refers to an individual's overall receptivity to feedback, including comfort with feedback, tendency to seek feedback and process it mindfully, and the likelihood of acting on the feedback to guide behavior change and performance improvement."

A classic concept from academic HR literature, feedback orientation “…refers to an individual’s overall receptivity to feedback, including comfort with feedback, tendency to seek feedback and process it mindfully, and the likelihood of acting on the feedback to guide behavior change and performance improvement.”

Note: Are you a freelancer? See my article on how freelancer’s can develop their feedback orientation.

Chapter 2: Constructive Feedback Myths & Feedback Research

Now that we have clearly defined constructive feedback and most related terms, let’s address some common myths about feedback communication. If you’re like me, you may have believed in some of these myths. Once we bring awareness to them, we can begin to change our own behaviors, and we can begin to spot them in the various dimensions of our lives — at work, while pursuing our hobbies, and even in our personal relationships.

As I’ve learned over the years, sometimes the best way to improve our feedback literacy isn’t only to understand what feedback literacy is; it’s to challenge some of the feedback beliefs we hold. These beliefs may run deep, going way back to lessons we learned during our earliest years on this earth. Our beliefs are often what we practice, and what we practice has an impact on ourselves and others. In the feedback myths video below, we will ground ourselves again in our shared definition of feedback as we take an evidence-based approach to debunking myths around:

  1. Positive feedback
  2. Receiving negative feedback
  3. When to give feedback
  4. Who holds power in the feedback relationship
  5. The purpose of feedback

While this video briefly highlights some of the classic research articles and papers from feedback experts, in the text after it you will find additional links to studies and research.

Transcript

Research About Feedback Communications

Here’s a look at some of the feedback research that has shaped my thinking and therefore shaped the information you are learning in this feedback guide. Many of these papers are behind very expensive paywalls, so you may need institutional access (typically from a university) to access them. You might also try searching for the paper’s title to see if anybody has made it accessible by republishing it. If you’re still struggling and curious, please email me at feedback@cameronconaway.com and I’ll try to find an open access version for you.

1979: Consequences of individual feedback on behavior in organizations (Journal of Applied Psychology)

1979: The effects of feedback on task group behavior: A review of the experimental research (Organizational Behavior & Human Performance)

1983: Feedback as an individual resource: Personal strategies of creating information (Organizational Behavior & Human Performance)

1983: On the definition of feedback (Behavioral Science)

1984: The performance feedback process: A preliminary model (Organizational Behavior & Human Performance)

1996: The effects of feedback interventions on performance: A historical review, a meta-analysis, and a preliminary feedback intervention theory (Psychological Bulletin)

2002: Feedback orientation, feedback culture, and the longitudinal performance management process (Human Resource Management Review)

2003: The Role Of Gender In The Construction And Evaluation Of Feedback Effectiveness (Management Communication Quarterly)

2007: The Power of Feedback (Review of Educational Research)

2010: The Development and Validation of the Feedback Orientation Scale (FOS) (Journal of Management)

2012: Why receiving feedback collides with self determination (Advances in Health Sciences Education)

2013: Beyond individualism: professional culture and its influence on feedback (Medical Education)

2015: Age differences in feedback reactions: The roles of employee feedback orientation on social awareness and utility (Journal of Applied Psychology)

2017: How empathic concern helps leaders in providing negative feedback: A two‐study examination (Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology)

2021: What feedback literate teachers do: an empirically-derived competency framework (Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education)

2021: Performance feedback interviews as affective events: An exploration of the impact of emotion regulation of negative performance feedback on supervisor–employee dyads (Human Resource Management Review)

2022: Honest feedback: Barriers to receptivity and discerning the truth in feedback (Current Opinion in Psychology)

2022: Feedback literacy: a critical review of an emerging concept (Higher Education)

2023: Feedback orientation: A meta-analysis (Human Resource Management Review)

Chapter 3: Feedback Communications at Work: Common Barriers

If you’ve made it this far, it’s at least partly because you know how challenging workplace feedback can be. In the next video, we will identify some of the most common barriers to effectively giving and receiving feedback at work. We’ll cover why these barriers exist, their negative impact on personal and organizational success, and how we can begin to counter their forces.

Along the way, we will develop our understanding of the Workplace Feedback Categories as depicted in the following framework.

The Workplace Feedback Categories Diagram includes two primary categories - Internal and External. On the Internal side we have Self and on the External side we have Sought. The categories of Individual, Customer and Market span across both Internal and External.

As we highlight the common categories across our framework, we will discover why pairing this framework with the Feedback Growth Pyramid is vital for breaking through the barriers.

The Workplace Feedback Categories accompanied by the Feedback Growth Pyramid, which shows three elements: Feedback Culture, Feedback Training, Feedback Event

After all, while understanding and awareness of barriers is a necessary first step, driving positive change is our ultimate goal.

Lastly, we will cover the Feedback Literacy venn diagram:

The Feedback Literacy Venn Diagram includes 4 sections, with Feedback Literacy in the center. Intrapersonal: The skills within our own mind, including those involving self-awareness, open-mindedness, and emotional intelligence, serve as the foundation for giving, receiving, and processing feedback. Interpersonal: Relational skills, including those comprising verbal and nonverbal communication, enable practices like active listening that are critical for developing feedback literacy. Feedback Literacy: Our capacity to effectively give, receive, and process feedback. Experiential: Feedback experiences across our personal and professional lives. Tip: Gain experience by proactively asking for feedback.

…and the 3Cs of Organizational Feedback Systems:

The 3Cs of Organizational Feedback Systems. Step 1: Collect - Feedback is collected from various sources (flowing in from feedback tributaries to form a feedback river). Step 2: Classify - The feedback river provides a central place to see all relevant feedback, and each piece gets classified. Step 3: Communicate - The classified feedback is routed to the most relevant stakeholders (the river forms feedback lakes).

Enjoy the following video titled 3 Barriers to Effective Feedback at Work (and How to Address Them):

Transcript

Chapter 4: How to Give Constructive Feedback

Upon reviewing both the academic literature and more informal surveys and studies, a few concepts stand tall as it relates to giving constructive feedback:

  1. It can have a tremendous impact on someone’s life and workplace performance
  2. Those giving negative feedback often experience tremendous anxiety
  3. It is often mired in unhelpful hierarchical and/or power dynamics
  4. Not giving it can be a primary reason why employees leave
  5. It’s widely regarded as a vital element of organizational success
  6. Most employees understand its importance and want more of it

Many of the most influential people of our time seem to unanimously agree that constructive feedback is critical for success.

Some have claimed that feedback is the favorite word of India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who views meeting people on the ground as not only a political act but a way to get honest feedback. As INSEAD Professor Erin Meyer wrote in When Diversity Meets Feedback, for Reed Hastings, the co-founder of Netflix, candid feedback is one of the top three ingredients of an innovative organization. For music superstar Taylor Swift, the first to reach billionaire status based on songs and recordings, meaningfully responding to the feedback her fans give is one reason why those fans adore her. For former U.S. President Barack Obama, listening and remaining open to feedback from multiple perspectives helped him make better decisions in the most challenging moments.

But giving feedback at the right time, in the right tone, and in a way that is most helpful to each particular recipient is hard. While “how to give feedback,” of course, depends on the unique variables present in any given situation, in this video, we will provide a few universal principles you can apply to just about every situation. In case you need them, below is a few key images you’ll see in the video.

Here are tips on giving feedback that come from Cameron Conaway's course on Constructive Feedback: Do give feedback close to the observed behavior But Do Not hold feedback until arbitrary date Do encourage feedback But Do Not pressure others for it in the moment Do create environment where others ask for feedback But Do Not talk to talk Do lead with empathy, helpfulness and kindness But Do Not use kindness to avoid being direct Do create time for others to process feedback But Do Not expect acceptance and smiles Do promote self-feedback But Do Not use demoralizing comparisons Do continue being a communications students But Do Not stop because you read good books.
An employee hierarchy of needs, as seen in the online course about Constructive Feedback An employee hierarchy of needs pyramid, with five parts. From the bottom-up the parts are: Money/Paycheck, Security/Culture, Belonging, Growth/Importance, Growth/Fulfillment Great feedback givers can impact the top four
Feedback Matrix from the Constructive Feedback course. The axis shows Helpfulness and Empathy. Upper left is Maybe Zone. Bottom left is Anxiety zone. Upper right is Learning Zone. Bottom left is Comfort Zone. The goal of feedback is to be in the Upper Right - Learning Zone.
Giving Feedback: Insights from a Fortune Magazine article titled "We analyzed 2 years of performance reviews for 13,000 workers. Here's the proof that low-quality feedback is driving employee retention down." Constructive feedback insights: 1. Employees who don't get clear feedback quite 2. Not all feedback is equally effective 3. High-quality feedback isn't distributed equally

Transcript

Chapter 5: How to Receive Constructive Feedback

I’ve had a very nonlinear career journey — ranging from being a mixed martial artist paid to get into a cage to fight another human to being a poet and investigative journalist covering human rights issues. Entering these different fields has allowed me to see feedback from all sorts of angles, and I’ve come to realize that receiving feedback is how I’ve improved in every element of my life.

In mixed martial arts, feedback could be a literal punch in the face during training or, worse, when I was already in the cage — where that feedback now means not just a potential loss but one that may have caused severe injury. In poetry, feedback could be somebody writing in red pen all over a poem I just put my heart and soul into. In investigative journalism, feedback came in various forms — including from seasoned mentors who helped me understand that, to expose critical truths for the betterment of the world, I may have to engage in actions I wasn’t comfortable with. During my time as a team leader at Cisco, a company that for three years in a row was named #1 on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, great feedback came from all parts of the organization — from my manager who taught me how to ask coaching-style questions to those who reported to me who helped me understand the gaps in my leadership. In each of these fields, I was able to see what excellent and terrible feedback looked like, including the gray in between, and also how I could position myself to receive the most effective kind.

Still, my struggle to receive feedback has been real. Sometimes, I’ve brushed it off, even if it was positive, because I thought I would become arrogant if I accepted it. At other times, I struggled to receive it because, even when it wasn’t it, I perceived it as an attack not on my work but on me, on my identity.

And despite all of the research I’ve done and the experiences I’ve had, I still feel my heart racing with anxiety when I need to step into a quarterly performance review. Part of what fascinates me about constructive feedback communication is precisely this struggle — no matter how much I think I understand, there’s always something to learn. It continues to challenge me in ways that help me understand myself and what it means to be human.

But let’s pause here for a moment to review this quote from a 2020 paper in the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management titled Teaching Employees How to Receive Feedback: A Preliminary Investigation.

“There is a substantial literature on how to deliver feedback to change performance. However, to date no research has been conducted on teaching employees how to effectively receive feedback.”

It shows you the current state of academic research on receiving feedback — which is that there isn’t much of it. So, in the following video, I’ll highlight data where I think it may be helpful, but I’ll also share a few tried-and-true best practices that, while they may not have the backing of dozens of academic studies, have been proven effective by leaders in various fields.

As with Chapter 4, before this video you’ll find a few images used within it.

The 4As of Receiving Feedback come from an online course titled Constructive Feedback at Work. They are: 1. Aspire - a reminder to keep centering development through curiosity and a growth mindset. If you feel complacent, tap into this. 2. Ask - a reminder to be a feedback seeker. Go get it! Ask for what you need and put yourself in position to get what you don't yet know you need. 3. Active - a reminder to pair mindset work with action and to practice active listening when you are receiving feedback. 4. Accept - a reminder to eventually accept (not adopt) what you received. It may not have been helpful feedback, but at some point you need to move it to the process phase.
The Feedback Literacy Venn Diagram includes 4 sections, with Feedback Literacy in the center. Intrapersonal: The skills within our own mind, including those involving self-awareness, open-mindedness, and emotional intelligence, serve as the foundation for giving, receiving, and processing feedback. Interpersonal: Relational skills, including those comprising verbal and nonverbal communication, enable practices like active listening that are critical for developing feedback literacy. Feedback Literacy: Our capacity to effectively give, receive, and process feedback. Experiential: Feedback experiences across our personal and professional lives. Tip: Gain experience by proactively asking for feedback.

Transcript

Chapter 6: How to Process Constructive Feedback

At this point, you now know how passionate I am about effectively giving and receiving feedback. But it’s the art and science of processing feedback that truly kickstarted my passion for feedback at work. As I went deep into reading the literature on effective feedback communications, I couldn’t help but notice how there was very little about how to use it effectively. I mean, not just receive it but use it.

In short, the research was heavily weighted towards helping managers give constructive feedback. Then, there was a small amount of research on receiving feedback, with some focused on the perception of receiving feedback rather than actually receiving it. This left an almost complete void for how employees (or humans in general) process feedback — that is, how they make sense of it, how they understand their thoughts and feelings about it, and how they ultimately decide how (or how not) to use it. This led to my article here at Harvard Business Review, which elevated the need to process feedback from a seemingly nonexistent part of the process to now one now used by thousands of leaders in companies ranging from the U.S. Air Force to Amazon Web Services (AWS), not to mention countless small business leaders who are running local coffee shops, yoga studios, and more.

Here’s a story I shared with Harvard Business Publishing about the roots of my passion for processing feedback.

And here’s the Feedback Decision Tree I created with the folks at Harvard Business Review:

Feedback Decision Tree. The questions ask for Yes or No answers to the following questions. Do I trust the motives of the person who delivered the feedback? Does the feedback align with my personal values and professional goals? Then, you land at the following options: Discuss with trusted mentors. If they confirm my assessment, discard feedback. Move on to Proceed. Discuss with others, including the feedback provider. If there's still misalignment, discard feedback.

Lastly, below is the more in-depth video on what I’ve learned about processing feedback. I include many examples in this video so that, hopefully, you can find some commonalities with your work.

As with the last few videos, here are a few images from the video.

Processing Feedback: Happens as we receive feedback and is the period after where we determine what to do with it.
Processing Feedback, the 6Ps: Step 1 is Poise, Step 2 is Process, Step 3 is Positionality, Step 4 is Percolate, Step 5 is Proceed, Step 6 is Perspective

Transcript

Chapter 7: How to Use Feedback

Okay, let’s say you’ve received some challenging negative feedback. Maybe it stirred up some emotions in you. But you’ve embraced your inner feedback wisdom and took time to process what it means and how you feel about it. After that, you felt grounded enough to make a decision about it, and you’ve decided to adopt this particular feedback.

Now what? How do you begin integrating it into your work? How do you recognize the habits that may be in the way of you implementing the change you want to make?

Welcome to the rarely-discussed world of actually using feedback! While much of the constructive feedback we receive is quick and easy to implement — for example, perhaps a copyeditor in your department advised you to please only add one space rather than two after every period — we will be addressing the type of feedback — such as being advised to contribute more in leadership meetings — that may take a bit more effort and thoughtfulness.

As we touched on, the challenge with challenging feedback communication we’ve decided to adopt is that it often involves changing a pattern of behavior. One key word here is “pattern.” In general, habits can be hard to change and this is especially true in the world of work where some of our habits may have developed for a variety of reasons — ranging the gamut from because they’ve led to your past successes to because they’ve served to protect vulnerable parts of yourself.

You can see the friction here.

If something has worked for you in the past, there’s a comfortable and positive history with it. In this sense, it’s like the high school basketball player who is told by their coach that they need to change their jumpshot form if they want to become a professional. At first, this player may actually get worse before they get better. Have they built the resourcefulness and mental strength to make it through this challenging period? As detailed in The Wall Street Journal, this was the story with Steph Curry, the greatest shooter in NBA history. The form of the first shot he became comfortable with (and good at it) started quite low. While this could work at the high school level, he wouldn’t be able to get away with it nearly as much in college, let alone in the pros if he were to make it that far. And so, despite incredible frustration, Curry turned toward the discomfort and began the painstaking mental and physical process of developing a new and improved form.

Related to this, what if embracing the constructive feedback means you need to be vulnerable in a way you’ve always worked hard — including subconsciously — to protect yourself against? In cases like this, using the feedback in a way that’s sustainable may mean both changing your external behavior (literally using the feedback) and beginning to do the inner work to uncover why that vulnerability exists and some strategies for befriending rather than burying it.

We will cover all of this and plenty more in the video below, How to Use Feedback. As always, before the video player you will find the most important image used in the video.

GROWTH Model for Using Feedback includes G for Game Plan, R for Reflect, O for Ownership, T for Test, W for Wonder, H for Habit. You can remember this model by thinking: Feedback = GROWTH.

Transcript

Chapter 8: How to Ask for Feedback (And Why You Should)

We’ve touched on feedback-seeking behavior in various chapters, but here we’ll go deeper into why it matters and how to do it. As you’ll discover in the following video, asking for feedback matters for many reasons, including because:

  1. It sets you up to get feedback. As we addressed in previous chapters, there are many challenges to getting the feedback we need. Sometimes, those with the best perspective are afraid to share it. In other cases, folks surrounding you aren’t sure how to share it — and in this state of uncertainty, they don’t. Directly asking for feedback can help cut through some of these barriers.
  2. It builds collaboration into a habit. Regularly asking for feedback can keep you humble and ensures that you are routinely tapping into the collective genius of those around you — even on projects you may be driving independently. Some work environments include feedback sessions directly into the project management process, but many others do not. Asking for feedback puts you in control and, as discussed, is generally seen as a very positive aspect of employee behavior.

We’ll dive into more points and details in the following video, but when asking for feedback, here are a few principles to remember.

  1. Ask with intention. Put another way, don’t ask just to be seen as someone who asks. When you bring a wholesome intention to your seeking of feedback, you’ll generally ask the right people at the right time.
  2. Allow time for a response and set a time-based expectation. Here, I don’t just mean pause after you’ve asked. When you ask, “Can I get your feedback in X, Y, Z?” — some participants may feel more comfortable providing feedback in days or even a week instead of right in the moment. Sometimes, the participant may feel pressured to immediately provide real-time feedback even though they don’t understand the full context of the project you are working on. So, before asking for feedback, understand the time constraints you are under — if you need immediate feedback to move the project forward, make it known.

Below are the primary images used in the video (and remember that you can click on each to enlarge them), followed by the video.

Asking for Feedback 1. Understand your intention 2. Ask your manager what they are seeing 3. Ask your team 4. Study those who inspire you 5. Connect with peers/equivalents 6. Ask for it after an interview

Transcript

Chapter 9: How to Create a Feedback Culture

In To Improve Your Learning Culture, Promote Feedback Literacy, we told the story of Khai, a soon-to-be new people manager who, like many, was advised about creating a feedback culture before they could see healthy feedback relationships modeled for them.

As you can guess, such advice can create confusion and ultimately set the manager up for failure. As you can also likely guess, creating a feedback culture begins with individual and team-based approaches to building feedback literacy. You may recall this Venn diagram:

Feedback Literacy venn diagram that shows Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, and Experiential with Feedback Literacy in the center. Intrapersonal: The skills within our own mind, including those involving self-awareness, open-mindedness, and emotional intelligence, serve as the foundation for giving, receiving, and processing feedback. Interpersonal: Relational skills, including those comprising verbal and nonverbal communication, enable practices like active listening that are critical for developing feedback literacy. Experiential: Feedback experiences across our personal and professional lives. Tip: Gain experience by proactively asking for feedback. Feedback Literacy: Our capacity to effectively give, receive, and process feedback.

The work done to build feedback literacy has a ripple effect that forms what we collectively call a “culture.” When all individuals work towards the same goal of improving their feedback literacy — though, of course, on their own paths — we can see a beautiful blossoming of the psychological safety and shared learning that is the backbone for an effective feedback culture.

In the following graphic, you’ll see that feedback literacy is at the core.

Feedback Literacy diagram shows the porous relationships between receiving feedback, giving feedback, experiencing feedback, processing feedback, and the feedback culture.
Cameron Conaway’s Feedback Model Diagram

The dotted lines highlight the porous nature, which shows the interplay between giving, receiving, processing, and generally experiencing feedback. All of this then flows out to Culture, where the circle is closed to represent the development of a particular team or department.

However, you might also think of Culture as porous because one team’s great feedback culture can spill over into other teams, and, similarly, unhealthy feedback cultures outside of your team can undoubtedly infect your team — especially if your team is not united around improving its core of feedback literacy. This core is the base. If the base is strong, unhealthy outside influences will have a more challenging time taking root on your team.

In some ways, building a feedback culture is more straightforward than it may appear. It simply demands the same level of commitment and focus given to other employee training and development areas.

We explore all of this and plenty more in the following video. As you are accustomed to, I’ve included the primary images before the video.

In the Constructive Feedback course, we cover these 5 parts in the section on Building a Feedback Culture: 1. Feedback Relationship Model (How the feedback dimensions relate). 2. Feedback Literacy Overview (Understanding all feedback literacy parts). 3. Feedback Literacy Development (How to develop each of the parts). 4. Feedback Culture Exploration (What makes a culture... a culture?). 5. Feedback Systems (At the organizational level).
Online course on constructive Feedback shows the importance of intrapersonal development: These are the skills within our own mind, including those involves self-awareness, open-mindedness, and emotional intelligence, and they serve as the foundation for giving, receiving and processing feedback. Developing these capacities brings awareness to: 1. Emotional States 2. Inner Chatter 3. Reactive Tendencies We can build these capacities by: 1. Mindfulness practice (including an 8-week program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR) 2. Journaling 3. Working with a licensed therapist 4. Working with a certified coach
In the Constructive Feedback Course, there's a section on interpersonal development. These account for the relational skills, including those comprising verbal and nonverbal communication, and they enable practices like active listening that are critical for developing feedback literacy.
Constructive Feedback Course, part 3 of Building a Feedback Culture focuses on Experiential (Feedback experiences across our personal and professional lives. Tip: Gain experience by proactively asking for feedback). 4 ways to develop experientially: 1. Post-feedback reflecting 2. 24-hour feedback inventory 3. Request training 4. Take on a stretch assignment

Transcript

Frequently Asked Questions about Constructive Feedback Communication

Here are a few of the many questions I’ve either wondered about or have been asked over the years. What questions am I missing here? Let me know at feedback@cameronconaway.com and I’ll consider adding them.

How often should feedback be given?

Remember the difference between formal and informal feedback. For in-depth formal feedback, many leaders choose to at least schedule quarterly individual feedback sessions with their direct reports. Informal feedback, however, should be given as close to the event being commented on as possible.

How should I prepare for giving constructive feedback?

As your feedback literacy matures, it may take less time to work through the SEEN acronym. SEEN stands for Scene (understanding the full context of the behavior you are commenting on); Empathy (for the receiver); Example (avoid vague generalities); and Next opportunity (though not necessary, it can be helpful to share an idea of when, where, and how this feedback may be applied in the future).

How should I prepare for receiving feedback?

While informal feedback often occurs before you can prepare for it, I recommend having what I call a feedback fallback phrase. By this, I mean a phrase like, “Thank you, I’ll process that and get back to you,” which you can use right after you get feedback. A phrase like this does a few things:

1. It thanks the giver.
2. It grants you time so you are not pressured to adopt or reject the feedback immediately.
3. It lets the receiver know you intend to follow up with them.

How you prepare for a scheduled formal feedback communication session, such as with your manager, can vary. As a baseline, always set an intention to bring your best and wisest self to the conversation. Practice active listening, be prepared to ask questions if you aren’t sure about something, and always be ready to take notes. If you have a sense of what behavior or action the feedback giver will be addressing, it can be helpful to think through what steps you plan to take to improve.

How should I give constructive feedback to my manager?

While there’s often a power dynamic in manager-to-direct-report relationships, it’s essential to remember that the basic principles of giving feedback still apply.

If you are early in your career, haven’t had much practice delivering feedback, and haven’t had enough interactions with your manager to know how they may respond to feedback, it might be helpful to preface your feedback communication by sharing how you are feeling and shifting more direct language so it comes off us as more inclusive.

For example, let’s say your manager gave an excellent virtual presentation, but it was clear they were looking down and reading notes rather than speaking directly into the camera. You might begin by saying something like: “To be honest, I’m quite nervous about sharing this, but I care about you and this company, and based on the latest all-hands, I think there’s an opportunity for us to improve how you present virtually.”

What is the main purpose of constructive feedback?

The main purpose of constructive feedback is to help an individual or group adjust a behavior or activity to become more effective. In the workplace, feedback communication can facilitate professional growth by serving as a mirror to help employees see their strengths and address areas for development. As we’ve discussed with feedback literacy, teams that use feedback effectively foster a culture of continuous learning, enhance communication, and generally contribute to a healthy and collaborative work environment.

Are there downsides to feedback?

While feedback is essential for personal and professional development, there can be downsides if the content is harmful, is not delivered well, and is not received well.

For example, poorly delivered feedback, even if it is well-intended and contains helpful content, may confuse the feedback receiver.
Likewise, criticism that comes off as too harsh or is perceived by the receiver as too harsh can demotivate and dishearten individuals rather than enliven and empower. Similarly, because many believe feedback should only focus on weaknesses, constant negative feedback likely won’t help employees see and continue developing their tremendous strengths.

As I wrote about at Harvard Business Review, it wasn’t until I received a specific example about my strengths as a poet that I felt motivated enough to become one.

What is an open feedback system?

An open feedback system is a feedback system in which the identity of the feedback givers and receivers is known. In other words, feedback doesn’t come from anonymous sources. In the workplace, for example, one department may leverage open feedback, where employees openly give and receive feedback, and a bit of closed feedback, such as a 360-degree feedback process, where feedback givers remain anonymous.

How do I respond to harmful feedback?

Receiving feedback can be challenging, mainly because it can expose weakness, which, if we haven’t developed our feedback literacy skills, can make us feel vulnerable and defensive and even cause us to respond in ways that aren’t helpful for the situation. Try to manage your emotional state before receiving feedback (and during, if possible). It may be helpful to take a few steady breaths. This can help you see with greater clarity whether the feedback communication was genuinely harmful or if it perhaps tapped into an area you may feel defensive about. Either way, you’ll handle the feedback communication better from this place of groundedness, and you’ll likely be able to ask more clarifying questions and determine the next step.

You are the best gauge of what is harmful, but if the feedback was harmful in that it was demeaning or an attack on your character, you don’t have to respond at all. If the behavior of the feedback giver is abusive, it may be best not to engage at all and leave the situation.

If, however, the feedback was harmful in that you feel it sets you up for failure or perhaps goes against your sense of ethics, you can inform the giver that you need time to process and then find a way to excuse yourself from the conversation. For an example of how I responded when I received this type of feedback, check out the video here.

How can I get constructive feedback after an interview?

Interviews can be great opportunities to get feedback that helps you see your skills gaps and can help you make adjustments for future interviews. Unfortunately, for various reasons, it can be challenging to receive feedback from those who interviewed you. This can be due to the interviewer potentially interviewing dozens of other candidates and simply not having the time. But to put yourself in a position to receive some, here are two steps to take.

At the end of your interview, directly ask for feedback on the area you want to improve. You might say, “I am incredibly excited at this opportunity and always looking to improve. Might you be open to emailing me any feedback you have about how I could have improved in our interview together?” This will put the interviewer in a position to respond and may reduce your chance of being ghosted.

Following up on the first point, you can reiterate your want for feedback when sending a thank you email to the interviewer and when reaching out to them on LinkedIn.

Lastly, be sure to respect the interviewer’s decision. If they are unable or unwilling to provide detailed feedback, I recommend not pushing. Some companies have policies restricting the extent of feedback communication they can give during the interviewing phase, and it’s important to acknowledge and accept that.

Should I provide feedback to my entire team?

If your feedback is primarily directed to a single individual, providing that feedback in a group setting is generally not advised. There are many reasons for this, including that such a feedback dynamic can feel belittling to the individual who is singled out. Belittling is not an effective method of feedback. Even if you do not single out the individual, it can confuse the group.

Group feedback is advised, however, if it’s truly applicable to the team. Some examples include if your marketing team is struggling to deliver projects on time or your basketball team’s defense is collectively struggling to guard the pick and roll.

As with individual feedback, it’s critical to ensure that the feedback you provide your team is specific, actionable, delivered with empathy, and framed constructively to promote learning and development rather than fear and demotivation.

What is feedback literacy?

As defined here, feedback literacy is a term I use to refer to an individual’s understanding of and capacity to effectively give, receive, and process feedback.

What is feedback orientation?

As defined here, feedback orientation “…refers to an individual’s overall receptivity to feedback, including comfort with feedback, tendency to seek feedback and process it mindfully, and the likelihood of acting on the feedback to guide behavior change and performance improvement.”

What is feedback intervention?

As described in Kluger & DeNisi’s classic article from 1996, feedback intervention is defined “as actions taken by (an) external agent(s) to provide information regarding some aspect(s) of one’s task performance.”

Does constructive feedback improve performance?

Yes, constructive feedback improves performance when we think about it generally. Some even argue that feedback is the only way to improve in anything.

Consider the work of John Hattie, an education professor who spent 15 years synthesizing 800 meta-analyses on learner achievement.

Here is his primary discovery, as summarized by feedback researchers David Carless and David Boud:

“The most powerful single influence on achievement is feedback but impacts are highly variable, which indicates the complexity of maximising benefits from feedback.”

From this, you can gather two points:

1. There is perhaps no better way to improve than by receiving constructive feedback
2. Feedback communication is complex

This complexity is why it’s important to also see feedback at the more micro-level. In this sense, not all feedback we receive is helpful. Feedback can even decrease performance depending on the specifics of what is presented and how it is presented.

Why does constructive feedback improve performance?

1. It provides individuals with valuable insights into their strengths and development areas. Each of these is vital for self-awareness and growth. Knowing your strengths allows you to maximize their use, and knowing your weaknesses can highlight improvement areas.

2. It serves as a guide. Remember, effective feedback communication not only shines a light on performance; it can also point the way forward. This can enable employees to enhance their performance and better align their efforts with organizational goals.

3. It builds a healthy workplace culture that centers on continuous learning. Where there is humility and curiosity around building feedback literacy, there are also open communication channels and a positive work culture.

4. It motivates individuals and ensures they feel satisfied with their growth and professional development. Several studies show that a lack of effective feedback can be a primary driver for why employees become disengaged or even leave a company.

Can feedback be disadvantageous?

Yes, depending on the content and delivery, feedback may decrease performance. Bad feedback, poorly delivered feedback, or even great feedback given at the wrong time or place can demotivate an employee and even set them up for failure.

Feedback communication is perhaps the most important tool for professional development, but many assume they are already great at it. The data suggests otherwise. This is why individual contributors and people managers need to receive comprehensive training on how to make effective use of feedback.

How can my team/organization get better at feedback communication?

First, you must invest in developing feedback communication capacities just as you would other areas of professional development. You can offer employee feedback training in several ways, such as by bringing in a feedback expert to facilitate the training or assigning an internal leader to create a training program based on the many free feedback resources out there.

Second, feedback development must be “always on.” Some talent & development leaders will offer a fantastic training program, only to return to it years later. Like the art and science of human communication, which feedback is a part of, feedback learning should never stop.

Third, dismantle feedback training silos. Some well-meaning HR leaders will offer people managers training on giving feedback while individual contributors get training on receiving feedback. This seriously short-changes employee development and reinforces unhelpful hierarchical power dynamics that can decrease organizational feedback literacy.

All employees can benefit from learning to give, receive, and process feedback. In the feedback I’ve received on the training I deliver, many individual contributors have found immense value in learning how to give feedback; they’ve told me it helps them give feedback but also helps them understand how to receive it better. Likewise, people managers have told me that learning to receive feedback has helped them improve how they give it. Here is a blog post about this topic.

What constructive feedback should I give a candidate after an interview?

While it may not be possible to give every candidate feedback after an interview, I’ve found that doing so can have several benefits, including:

1. It can increase the candidate’s respect for you and your organization.
2. It can improve their ability to succeed in future interviews.
3. It can give them a perspective they may not be able to get elsewhere.

Give the feedback you think will be most helpful for the candidate. I often liken this to a great football quarterback who throws the ball to a receiver in a way that leads to a catch and the ability to get yards after they make the catch.

For example, if the candidate had a fantastic interview but fell short on some primary skills needed in the role, it can be helpful to let them know both aspects. To continue the football metaphor, they would be able to “catch” this pass and take specific action after they do.

How is feedback communication different from advice?

Feedback and advice are related concepts in the workplace, with advice as one part that can be — but doesn’t necessarily need to be — included in the feedback conversation. For example, a feedback conversation may begin with the giver providing an overview of the employee’s strengths and a particular weakness they perceived. The feedback could become advice when the feedback giver, based on their own experience, recommends a specific change the employee could make to improve the weakness. Both advice and feedback can be valuable in fostering professional development.

I heard feedback doesn’t work. Is feedback dead?

Feedback is alive and well. In fact, it’s perhaps more alive than ever thanks to advances in psychology and neuroscience, a growing body of academic research, and increased societal awareness of how psychological safety impacts workplace performance and cultures.

As artificial intelligence becomes more integrated into our lives, feedback will continue to evolve. AI will provide feedback to us, we will provide feedback to it, and we may use our newfound space to become more effective feedback communicators with each other. As AI frees humans from many manual and technological tasks, human-to-human communication (including feedback) may become even more critical for organizational success.

The “feedback is dead” myth spread due to contrarians who either didn’t fully understand what feedback is or had an ulterior motive for leading others to believe in the myth.

How is feedback different than coaching?

Coaching is a type of feedback, as you can see from the definition of feedback: “Feedback is a response to a person’s activity with the purpose of helping them adjust to become more effective. Feedback comes in various forms, including evaluative (how you did and where you are), appreciative (how you are valued and recognized), and coaching (how you can improve).” Not all feedback includes coaching, but all coaching is a form of feedback.

What is a feedback sandwich?

A feedback sandwich is a way to frame negative feedback by “sandwiching” it between two positive feedback comments.

Is feedback communication always biased?

No, feedback communication is not always biased. Unless you include our cognitive biases (such as negativity bias), in which case feedback is likely influenced by one or more of them. Consider that feedback comes in various forms, including evaluative feedback, which could simply be the result you achieve on a multiple-choice exam or the abrasive sound of a missed basketball shot bouncing off the rim. Many types of feedback, however, involve human-to-human communications, which are subject to bias.

As you build your feedback literacy, it’s important to remember that bias in communicating feedback can arise from the personal perspectives, experiences, and implicit biases of the person providing or receiving the feedback. And, because feedback goes beyond the individual and into the culture, systemic biases within an organization or even within an entire industry can influence how feedback is given and received. Consider this article at Harvard Business Review: Women Get “Nicer” Feedback — and It Holds Them Back.

It’s possible to mitigate some bias when communicating feedback. In interviews, for example, it can be helpful to implement a structured feedback template with objective evaluation criteria. Another way is by providing feedback training that helps employees develop the mindfulness and inner resources to be aware of their potential biases — and to do the often challenging work of dismantling these biases.

Feedback bias often appears in vague feedback, so it’s important to offer clear and specific feedback based on observable behaviors or outcomes. Ultimately, a holistic approach to building employee feedback literacy can create a feedback culture and, thus, a professional working environment that values objectivity, fairness, and inclusivity.

How is feedback different than criticism?

Criticism can be considered a type of feedback communication that points only to the areas to be improved. It addresses and “critiques” a past performance without providing guidance or a future-oriented lens.

What should I say when receiving feedback?

That is for you to determine. When receiving feedback, it’s better to develop the presence of mind to say what you need to say (rather than having something memorized). However, for unplanned feedback that you didn’t have time to prepare for, it may be helpful to have a feedback fallback phrase – such as “Thank you, I’ll process that and get back to you” — that can ease some of the pressure of feeling the need to respond directly to the feedback before you are ready.

Many popular feedback advice articles suggest smiling and saying thank you when receiving feedback. Unfortunately, such advice grows out of a condescending body of work that often positions the feedback giver as an all-knowing power and the receiver as a no-nothing very junior colleague. Be careful of sharing or adopting this type of advice as it often emphasizes appearing to receive feedback (and appeasing the giver) rather than actually receiving feedback.

How do I know what kind of feedback I need?

You don’t know what you don’t know. In such a case, you can ask people you admire for any feedback they may have, including positive feedback, based on their work with you. Additionally, you may notice particular qualities in others that inspire you. For example, perhaps your colleague is a riveting public speaker, and this is an area you want to improve in. In this case, you can reflect on what makes them so good and even ask them what advice they may have for you.

As you develop in your career and overall feedback literacy, you’ll gain a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. You may also have a good sense of how you want to progress in your career. With this awareness, you’ll be in a great position to ask for and receive the feedback you need.

Why is it stressful to give feedback? How can I make it less stressful?

Giving feedback, particularly negative feedback, can be stressful for several reasons, including because people are afraid they won’t present the feedback correctly and because they are afraid of how the feedback receiver may respond. Feedback communication may involve addressing sensitive issues and potentially causing conflict, something many people like to avoid. As humans, we are wired to build rather than damage relationships — and many fear that in delivering feedback they may be doing the latter.

Giving feedback can also be stressful because not many of us get safe opportunities to practice how we give and receive negative feedback — for some, their first time doing it is in a high-stakes work environment. And very few of us receive comprehensive feedback training. Put all of this together — that we are afraid of the response and haven’t had practice — and it’s a recipe for stress.

There are several levels to making the giving of feedback less stressful. Well before the feedback session, it will be helpful to understand what feedback is and what effective feedback looks like. As you approach the feedback conversation, being prepared with notes and perhaps practicing beforehand can be a de-stressor. Directly before and even during the meeting, taking a few slow and steady breaths (or otherwise resourcing in whatever way allows you to bring your clearest state of mind to the meeting) can be helpful.

For some, orienting to the room is a big de-stressor. To do this, some find it helpful to slowly look around the room they are in. You might also place your hands on the table and feel the feelings — the texture and temperature of the table. These types of orienting practices can bring us into the present moment, make us feel safe, and help us feel grounded in the stability of our bodies rather than lost in spiraling thoughts. Ultimately, do what you must do to reach this truth: you’ll be okay.

If you are a leader who wants to make feedback less stressful for you and those in your organization, here are some steps to take (in addition to this blog).

1. Strive to create a feedback-friendly environment. This means talking about feedback and providing feedback training for your team. It also means emphasizing the importance of continuous improvement and learning from feedback (and you must model this by asking for and, when it feels right, adopting their given feedback).

2. Be clear, specific, and aspirational in your feedback. Focus on behaviors or actions rather than making personal judgments. Frame feedback as an exciting opportunity to improve.

3. Provide ongoing positive feedback. Otherwise, you may build a culture that views feedback as constantly negative. Such a culture can make givers and receivers feel stressed and demotivated.

4. Encourage dialogue / two-way communication. Feedback is a conversation, so be sure to ask for the individual’s perspective, pause for them to ask questions, and encourage them to share their thoughts on the feedback received. This promotes understanding and collaboration.

5. Deliver feedback in a timely manner. Address issues as they arise and avoid letting concerns build as this can increase stress for both parties.

6. Plan and structure feedback using the Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI) model. Describe the specific situation, the observable behavior, and its impact. The SBI model can help you frame your thoughts, which can alleviate stress. It also ensures your feedback remains more objective and focuses on directly-observed actions.

7. Plan regular check-ins and feedback sessions. This normalizes feedback experiences, making it a regular part of professional development rather than an isolated, stressful event.

8. Provide feedback training. If you made it this far, you knew this one was coming. Offering feedback training for all employees, not only those primarily responsible for giving feedback, equips all with the skills and knowledge needed to communicate effectively and handle potentially challenging situations. Improving feedback literacy in this way can increase confidence, reduce stress, and build the organization into a continuous learning machine.

I’m a new manager. When should I give feedback to my direct reports?

There’s no timeframe for when to begin giving feedback, but a general rule of thumb before giving negative feedback is to get to know your new teammates and build a good understanding of their strengths and weaknesses first. If you become a manager in the middle of a project and notice challenges on the project due to the behavior of a colleague you haven’t had the chance to get to know very well, do not delay the feedback. For more on this topic, read: Giving Feedback to New Teammates.

Can feedback be given nonverbally?

Absolutely. Written feedback remains a vital way that employees give and receive feedback. Additionally, there’s power in nonverbal gestures. Imagine giving a speech and the audience members yawning and falling asleep. Unless you are performing in front of a sleep-deprived group, that’s nonverbal feedback worth paying attention to. However, if you can, it’s also important to provide verbal feedback. Much can get lost if feedback is only given in writing or through nonverbal gestures.

Should feedback always include examples?

Because feedback comes in various forms and types, it does not always need to include examples. However, to deliver impactful and effective positive feedback and negative feedback, you should provide clear and specific examples of the observed behavior. This will help the recipient understand the feedback. Regarding negative feedback, it can also be helpful to provide guidance or inspiring examples on improving the perceived behavior.

Ultimately, while examples can enhance feedback effectiveness, their necessity depends on the nature of the feedback and the level of detail needed to convey the message effectively.

My manager doesn’t give feedback. What should I do?

If your manager isn’t providing feedback, ask for their feedback and try to be as specific in your ask as possible. For example, do you want feedback about your performance on a project? Ask for it directly. You can also ask about skills development, career development, or what they see as your overall contributions to the team. There’s plenty of academic research on the benefits of feedback-seeking behavior — including that it presents you as an employee who cares about professional growth — so you’ll be making a good move by being proactive.

Additionally, let your manager know how important it is for you to receive their feedback. If you don’t have regular check-ins scheduled with your manager, it may be a good idea to propose them as they can be opportunities to get consistent performance feedback.

Lastly, remember that your manager is not your only feedback provider. You can seek feedback from anybody you’d like — from your internal peers at various seniority levels to industry leaders you admire.

What is a feedback loop?

At work, a feedback loop is a continuous and iterative process where an individual or team receives feedback, learns, and improves performance. More technically, a feedback loop is about cause and effect, where the output (the feedback) becomes a constructive input (improved product or performance). At the organizational level, customer feedback on the design of your product would be the output that becomes the input needed to redesign your product and create a better offering for your customer (thus creating a full circle).

I’m a coach/executive/teacher How can I get the feedback I need to improve?

Map out all potential areas for feedback. For example, don’t just see it as coming from what your clients, employees, or students freely offer up. Due to power dynamics, they may not offer you feedback. Instead, be consistent in proactively asking for specific feedback on a particular area you want to improve. And be sure to give folks time to respond (including weeks, if necessary) and options (including anonymity).

Additionally, actions and inactions are also sources of feedback. If your coaching clients aren’t returning for their third session with you, that’s feedback. If you’re sensing a decline in morale or a lack of innovative spirit within your organization, think of that as feedback. If a large group of students struggles to understand your lesson, that could be feedback.

Lastly, the key to getting effective feedback as a leader is to recognize the power of your positionality and to stay hungry about improving your feedback literacy. When you become the trusted advisor or leader of your group, it may be more challenging than ever for you to receive feedback. Recognize this and be willing to make an extra effort to get what you need for your continued growth.


Congratulations!

Whoa. You made it all the way here? Now what?

Now it’s time to implement everything you’ve just learned. You may already be doing this. If so, bravo!

But you may also be fired up, ready to take what you learned and seriously change how organizations approach feedback. Maybe you now even see feedback as a core but woefully neglected part of professional development.

If that’s you, the 4-week Feedback Facilitator Certificate Program may be a great next step. It will allow you to build on what you learned here so you can become a confident feedback trainer for your organization and beyond.

I’ll keep each cohort relatively small, and I’ll offer spots in the program based on the order you signed up.

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