What is Feedback? | Feedback Definition, Types, Examples

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See transcript below for the video titled What is Feedback? | Feedback Definition, Types, Examples. After the transcript, you’ll find a gallery of all the primary images used in the video to define feedback, describe the feedback types, and show the feedback examples. Click each image to view it in a larger size. You can also get all the feedback terms and examples as a PDF here.

Hi there, my name is Cameron Conaway. I’m a faculty member at the University of San Francisco and my work on feedback has appeared in Harvard Business Review – where I positioned the need to process feedback as a critical next step after we receive it, and I was one of a few corporate leaders asked to help with Feedback Essentials – a course from Harvard Business Publishing that is used by global organizations to develop their leaders. For those who just want a quick feedback definition and then need to leave, here you go – this is how I 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).” 

For everybody else – I hope you’ll stick around because feedback is one of the most underrated and neglected aspects of our personal and professional development – and I’ll be breaking this feedback definition down into its parts so we have the more nuanced understanding we need to improve how we leverage it.

So what is feedback?

It’s the time you burnt your hand on the top of a stove and learned to be especially careful not to do that again. It’s the comment from your basketball coach about tucking your elbow in more on your jumpshot. It’s advice from a colleague, who said she felt your presentation could have been much more engaging if you had read off the slides a little less – and who continued by saying that what works for her is to just keep a few bulleted points on each slide that can serve as talking point reminders. Feedback can even be your partner asking if you could please take the garbage out before it begins to overflow, because when the garbage reaches the top of the can your dog goes superhero mode and knocks it all over.

If you’re anything like me, feedback has had a tremendous impact on your life. As I look back over mine, feedback can feel as common as the air that surrounds me – it’s how I’ve improved in perhaps everything I’ve ever done and it’s how I’ve helped others become more effective in what they want to do. You’ve likely received feedback that has also caused you tremendous stress, I know I sure have – check out this video where I share a real story of one of those tremendously stressful experiences. And, although it may be hard to admit, our feedback to others has likely caused them tremendous stress. Again – I speak from experience here.

But what if we could tap into and amplify the profound power of feedback while minimizing the stress we experience and cause due to how we give and receive it? There’s no quick fix for making that happen, but in my experience as an educator and corporate leader, I’ve come to believe that improvement in this regard begins… at the beginning – with a feedback definition and, from there, an understanding of what feedback is, an exploration of the three common feedback types, and then some real-world feedback examples that bring everything together.

So if you’re still with me, here’s a quick look at what we will cover. First, we’ll briefly explore why it’s important to have a definition of feedback. It’s great to have one, but for it to stick and be integrated into your work and life I’ve found that it’s vital to also understand why we need one and some of the faulty assumptions not having one can cause us to fall into. Second, I’ll again share my feedback definition and how it came to be so we have a shared understanding of what we’re talking about. Third, we will unpack our definition of feedback – looking at its individual parts so we have a more nuanced understanding. Fourth, within our feedback definition there are three feedback types, so we’ll spend some time really diving into those because these three types of feedback can serve as important overarching categories where we can explore some specific feedback examples. And then fifth, as you likely guessed, we’ll explore examples of feedback for each of the types. At this point, I believe you’ll have the foundation you need to begin improving how you give and receive feedback. However, I’ve added kind of a bonus number six here – additional feedback types and terms – because it’s not enough to be equipped with a definition and some examples. In the workplace and beyond, you’ll likely encounter various dimensions and flavors of feedback… so we’ll take a tour of those to ensure that we become the feedback learning sponges we need to be to improve our performance at work and, more broadly, our communication with other humans… and maybe with sponges.

Okay, so let’s take it from the top. 

Why is a feedback definition important? 

So first, let me back up. Consider that John Hattie, an education professor, spent 15 years of research and synthesized some 800 meta analyses on achievement in learners – here is one of the books that came from that work. In summarizing the results of John Hattie’s own epic achievement, researchers David Carless and David Boud put it this way

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

So, team, what we have here is just one of many proof points about the power of feedback in helping us learn and grow. However, Hattie also calls out the “complexity of maximizing benefits from feedback.” This is why I want us to spend some time here understanding our why – feedback can catapult your development like nothing else and it’s complex, it takes work, and it takes leveling up our ability as communicators.

Because feedback is everywhere in our life… many of us assume we all know what feedback is and we assume other people see it in the same way we do. These are big assumptions, team, that can lead to a host of communication challenges. And they tend to lead us to believe that we don’t really need to have a shared definition. Indeed, in part because of these assumptions, the vast majority of the feedback articles out there, and even entire books about feedback, tend to skip past defining what it is. The result, then, is that we tend to have no shortage of content about giving feedback, receiving feedback, and even building great feedback cultures for our teams at work – but it all feels a bit like we’ve put the cart before the horse. These assumptions carry over into the corporate world, where some leaders speak beautifully about the importance of effectively leveraging feedback throughout their organization, but do not offer their employees a definition let alone training to make sure everybody has a solid foundation for what’s being talked about. Related to this, according to a few search engine tools, millions of people each month search for “feedback” or “what is feedback” or “feedback definition” – again, all in an attempt to get a baseline sense of what it is. But turning to search engines for an answer can lead us down some rabbitholes where we get all types of feedback definitions – definitions relating to the human-to-human type of behavior-based feedback, which is mostly what we are covering here, but also some confusing definitions related to self-regulatory biological systems or feedback as it relates to electrical devices. 

Those who go deeper or want a more authoritative source may land on Professor Ramaprasad’s 1983 paper in Behavioral Science titled, On the definition of feedback, which defines it like this: 

“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. Because, if you think about, feedback is meant to address some kind of perceived gap. However, as I’ve reflected on this definition over the years and presented it to others – they’ve provided feedback, that I agree with, that it feels too jargon-heavy for a general audience, what with “system parameter” and “reference level,” so I no longer lead with it when attempting to define feedback for others.

So all that to say, finding a solid feedback definition is harder than it should be. And to come back to our why.. here are three reasons why it’s important to have one. Number one: doing so can help dismantle the pervasive assumptions we mentioned. Number two: it can ensure you and your team, or otherwise those around you, are aligned and have a definition to point to when situations arise – this can be especially helpful if you are a manager onboarding new teammates. And number three: it can set us up for continued learning on the topic as we’ll be doing here because the definition can serve as our foundation and save us from that horse stirrup-ing some trouble as we read the many great articles out there about various elements of feedback. All of this leads us, yes, to our feedback definition again. After spending years reading many books and hundreds of academic papers and popular business articles, here again is where I’ve landed:

So let’s start to unpack this feedback definition.

There are three parts worth exploring here. First, let’s zoom in on this one: “is a response to a person’s activity”

This part centers that there was a stimulus, right, something happened – in this case, a person’s activity – and that there was a corresponding response – in this case, to a person’s activity. “Response” here is intentionally a bit vague because a feedback response can range a gamut that includes everything from an audience’s standing ovation – which is feedback letting a performer know they did something exceptionally well – all the way to an in-depth conversation with a colleague, where maybe a more junior colleague provides what’s called “upward feedback” to their manager about how they feel they are being micro-mananged and that they are struggling to remain productive and creative as a result.

Let’s continue to the second part: “with the purpose of helping them adjust”

The purpose of feedback is to be helpful. However, as you’ve likely learned through experience, having the best intentions, the best purpose, 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. This word “adjust” also refers to a future activity. After all, you can’t go back and adjust a thing in the past. In this sense, effective feedback by its nature is helpful precisely because it allows someone to adjust a future performance. Keep in mind that for feedback to be more directly future-oriented, it can be helpful to – but it doesn’t necessarily need to – explicitly talk about a future event. For example, even appreciative feedback like, “great job driving that project to the finish line” doesn’t specifically call out a future event but it can plant a seed that will allow the feedback receiver to carry lessons from how they successfully completed this project into their next project, right.

And then, lastly, let’s look at 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 for the 100th time you read The Very Hungry Caterpillar before bed? Yes, all of those can be considered feedback. In this sense, “various forms” leaves space for the many other forms or types, which we will cover, while specifically naming three of the most common (evaluative, appreciative, and coaching) which can serve as foundational types that many feedback examples can fit into.

And that leads us to exploring the three feedback types.

So these three feedback types come from a book titled Thanks for the Feedback – it’s a great read from Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project – and I’ve found the three primary types they’ve come up with to be quite reflective of my own work and experience. You’ll find a link to the book in the description.

So here is how we define each type:

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. So in this sense it’s similar to Professor Ramaprasad’s “the gap between the actual level and the reference level.” 

To make evaluative feedback real, here are five feedback examples:

Number 1: At the end of the quarter, you drove 10% fewer marketing leads than you forecasted. The feedback here, and perhaps it came from an automated dashboard, tells you how you did in relation to how you thought you would do. This not only lets you know how you did, but it provides a data point that can be the signal you need to improve how you drive leads and/or improve your next forecast. 

Here are a few other examples:

Number 2: A direct report tells you: “You are the best leader I’ve ever worked with.” 

Number 3: You did not meet the qualifying standards to participate in the Boston Marathon.

Number 4: You moved to #4 on a Duolingo leaderboard.

Number 5: Your formal bid in response to a Request for Proposal (RFP) was selected.

Notice the variation of these examples. We have a positive but rather vague comment from a direct report… next to an example of missing your quarterly number. These are still evaluative because they directly or indirectly contain a comparative data point.

You may be thinking, “What!? Wasn’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 (You are the best leader I’ve ever worked with) 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. The 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.

Let’s move to appreciative feedback. 

Appreciative feedback helps you know you are valued and recognized. Here are five examples of appreciative feedback:

Number 1: Your basketball team’s center points to you in gratitude after that great pass.

Number 2: Your grandparent says, “I am so grateful for all you’ve done for us.”

Number 3: Your teacher praises you in class for always asking great questions.

Number 4: Upon returning from a dangerous military mission, one sergeant hugs another.

Number 5: A patron at the restaurant where you work leaves you a great tip.

You’ll notice that appreciation can be spoken in words (as the grandparent and teacher did) or it can be unspoken or nonverbally communicated (as with the basketball center, the sergeants, and the patron who left a great tip). 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, quietly renewing their contract for another quarter may be all the appreciation they want or need.

If you’re a people manager, it can be especially important to know 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.

One point to note here: appreciative, positive feedback is vital. It’s so vital that I even included it in my video here where I take an evidence-based approach to addressing five of the most common workplace feedback myths. While some erroneously view this type of feedback as the fluffy form of feedback that nobody needs, studies suggest that providing positive feedback, especially very specific positive feedback that goes beyond “great job” can improve employee satisfaction and development. I’ll link to a few good resources about the importance of positive feedback in the description.

And that leads us to coaching feedback. The coaching feedback type helps point the way to how you can improve. Here are five examples of coaching feedback:

Number 1: A colleague tells you they loved the flyer and social media graphics you created, but to please make sure to use the company’s proprietary font. After a conversation, they recommend taking a course they just completed titled “Omnichannel Branding.” 

There’s a positive comment in this feedback, and it’s also coaching feedback because it highlights a gap and a potential way to improve it in the future. Keep in mind that coaching feedback can come from anywhere – it need not be from a more senior colleague.

Number 2: “Here’s what worked for me when I was in a similar position,” a colleague begins.

Number 3: Your ballet teacher offers advice on how to improve your grand plié.

Number 4: Through active listening and asking questions, one teammate guides another to finding their own solution to a challenge.

Number 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?”

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. In some work environments, coaching relationships may be more formalized – such as more senior colleagues serving as a coach for a more junior colleague. But, as stated, it doesn’t have to be that way. We all have things to learn from each other and 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 feedback. But the other types do as well. Consider how positive feedback that is more appreciative in nature, such as – “Great work on your latest revision. I see the immense work you put in and your essay reads so much smoother as a result” – can help a beginning writer see the value of their effort and ensure they put in such effort on a future essay.. Or consider how knowing how you did on a project at work (evaluative feedback) can help you determine which qualities to bring to your next one.

And that leads us to our bonus.

Additional feedback types and terms.

So here we will do a whirlwind through some types and terms that I’ve categorized and found it helpful to know. So you have these wherever you are, I’ve also assembled them into a PDF which I’ve linked to in the description. Okay, here we go:

The primary term to describe generalized feedback capacities

Feedback literacy. 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.

The next category is Feedback based on formality and timing.

So the following terms and examples all fit within that.

Planned feedback. 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.

An example of planned feedback would be: 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.

Informal feedback. 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. The benefit of good informal feedback is its timeliness. Sometimes, this type of feedback can be incorporated minutes after an activity, leading to improved outcomes.

An example of informal feedback would be: 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.

And here’s another example: 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.”

Unplanned feedback. 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 could be considered informal but it would not be considered unplanned.

An example of unplanned feedback would be: 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’s comment there is unplanned appreciative feedback.

The manager may even leverage this unplanned feedback to reinforce the feedback to Colleague A in front of the team and create a teachable moment. They may say something like: “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.”

Real-time feedback. 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).

An example of real-time feedback that is planned would be: 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.

The next category is: Feedback based on source

Self-feedback. Although informal feedback is often referred to as the most common type of feedback, 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 mindfulness and self-reflection is a key part of developing conscious self-feedback and helping to bring unhelpful subconscious self-feedback to the surface so it can be worked with rather than reacted to.

Peer-to-peer feedback. In the workplace, peer-to-peer feedback typically refers to feedback given and received by peers at relatively equal seniority levels, but it can also refer to peers of any level and kind giving or receiving feedback. 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). For the definitive read on psychological safety, check out Professor Amy Edmondson’s book titled The Fearless Organization – I’ve linked to it in the description. Having a shared understanding of the feedback basics is also vital for peer-to-peer feedback to work, and this includes – as we’re doing here – getting alignment on a feedback definition and having 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. And some 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 feedback about a project at work can reap immense benefits.

Customer feedback. 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.

Employee feedback. 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.

360-Degree Feedback. 360-degree feedback (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 it can allow 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.

Okay, the next category is Feedback based on positionality

  • meaning where the givers or receivers are in some hierarchical relationship.

Upward feedback. 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).

Downward feedback. 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.

Let’s move now to Feedback based on content and giver/receiver perception

Positive feedback. 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 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.

An example of positive feedback would be: “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.”

Negative feedback. 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 that they felt we can do better. In this sense, negative feedback can be beneficial. However, for various reasons we will explore in a future video, folks often fear giving and receiving it. Working through this fear can be challenging, but there can be tremendous growth when you do.

An example of negative feedback would be: “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?”

Constructive feedback. Constructive feedback seems to exist due to confusion or misconceptions around what the “negative” in negative feedback refers to. “Constructive” here implies helpfulness or usefulness, and maybe a future-oriented view, which is all in our primary definition of feedback. So I 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.”

Feedforward. 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.

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

An example of positive feedforward forward can be: 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.

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

An example of negative feedforward could be: 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.

Destructive feedback. 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.

Our next category is Feedback based on delivery method

Oral feedback. 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.

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.”

Visual feedback. 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.

Automated feedback. 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.

Additional feedback types

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

Example phrasing could be: “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.”

Formative feedback. 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.

Summative feedback. 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.

Criticism. 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.

Other feedback terms you may come across

Feedback-Seeking Behavior. Feedback-seeking behavior (FSB) 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.

Feedback orientation. According to Manuel London and James Smither’s classic 2002 paper in the Human Resource Management Review, 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 the article I linked to in the description about how freelancer’s can develop their feedback orientation.

And that’s a wrap, team. If you found this video helpful, more are coming… so subscribe to get notified. But really what I’d love is for you to bring any insights you found here into your relationships with others, and of course to provide me with any feedback you may have. May you and those you love be well.



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