Intent Blog

How to Give Feedback so that it is Well Received

Feedback is not the easiest thing to get right. It is very often hard to find the courage to give useful feedback and it is often even harder to ensure that feedback is given in a way that inspires the person to improve, without demotivating or demoralizing them. Receiving feedback is just as challenging. The natural response when getting feedback, particularly negative feedback, is to become defensive and discredit what the person is saying. This makes it impossible to learn from their feedback.

In this article I would like to discuss the advantages of feedback and note some useful tips to keep in mind about how to give feedback:

Advantages of Feedback:

The advantages of feedback are for the most part really self-evident.

Feedback ensures that standards don’t slip

Feedback helps people maintain their standards of performance. It is very difficult to keep tabs on our own performance. We typically get into routines with our tasks and we can easily loose sight of exactly how well we are doing. Very often, when standards have collectively slipped, no one actually realises the slip. I have had the experience where I have felt that I am doing my job to standard, only to find out later that I am just no longer doing it as well as I used to.

Having a person inform us of exactly how we are doing, particularly when we have let standards slip is very important to ensure that we are always guided towards maintaining high standards of performance. This sort of performance feedback should also include positive feedback, when it is deserved. It is just as important to know what we are doing right as it is to know what we are not doing so well. Knowing that we are doing something well sets our hearts at ease and gives us the opportunity to reproduce exactly the same going forward. Knowing what we are not getting right allows us to understand what we must change going forward. Both of these are necessary for maintaining high standards of performance.

Feedback facilitates constant improvement

Like I just said, it is very easy to get into a routine and lose sight of exactly how well we are doing, but also lose sight of how we could be doing better. Feedback can provide the opportunity for reflection on areas of improvement. This is about more than just maintaining standards, it is about understanding how the bar can be raised and higher standards set.

Feedback facilitates personal growth

Feedback is also very useful for letting us know about our personal strengths and weaknesses. Our unique strengths and weaknesses are often hard for us to identify, but can be very apparent to others. Because it is hard for us to know our own strengths and weaknesses it can be hard for us to identify the things in ourselves we should be working on to improve. Very often there will be some weakness that we are unaware of that prevents us from being maximally effective. Feedback gives us the opportunity to address this but also puts us in a better position to truly understand what we are good at and what contribution we can best be making.

How to give feedback:

To my mind, there are two rules of thumb that come to mind to help with giving feedback. The first is that feedback should always be based on a genuine care for the person. The second is that giving feedback is not an opportunity to be rude. There may be others but these are the two I will briefly discuss.

feedback must be rooted in care

Ensuring that you base feedback on a genuine care for the other person is useful in a couple of regards. Firstly it can help us muster up the courage to confront the person and give them feedback. On the face of it, caring for someone will make giving them tough feedback harder to achieve. But if we bear in mind that giving them that feedback will actually be good for them, then the fact that we care for them can help us muster up the courage to confront them, because if our care is genuine we would be willing to do whatever is necessary to help them.

Basing your feedback on care for the other person also ensures that you only give feedback when doing so will be helpful to the person. One should be careful of just giving feedback for feedback’s sake. feedback is a tool we can use to help uplift others and so we should only use it when it is a matter of informing a person of something that is directly relevant to how they can improve.

You must remain courteous at all times

The second thing to keep in mind is that feedback is not an opportunity to be rude. This is a mistake people regularly make, myself included. I have often used honesty as an excuse for being rude. I have said demotivating and hurtful things, then justified it to myself by telling myself “I was just being honest.”

Feedback is of course about honesty but, like honesty, it requires that we remain courteous at all times. When we allow ourselves to be discourteous when giving feedback our feedback is likely to have the opposite of the desired result, which is uplifting the person and inspiring them to improve and strive towards excellence.

Assad holds a Masters in Philosophy from the University of the Witwatersrand and is currently a PhD candidate. He is the editor of the Schuitema blog and is a regular facilitator of the company's Care and Growth and Mentoring for Mastery programs. He also has 5 years experience lecturing and tutoring Philosophy at Wits.