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Stop Serving Soup Sandwiches: The Art of Giving and Receiving Effective Feedback

Updated: Feb 9

"What is the shortest word in the English language that contains the letters: abcdef? Answer: feedback. Do not forget that feedback is one of the essential elements of good communication.” Anonymous.

In the late 80’s when I began working as a direct care counselor with at-risk youth in treatment programs, feedback was the norm.  We were working in environments that had high levels of potential dangers, and safety risks to our clients, to us, and our colleagues.  It was incumbent upon us to give each other frank, direct, and honest feedback in the moment.  If we held back, someone could get hurt and when they held back, someone did get hurt. 

Feedback was also a tool to help us empower ourselves.  Feedback was encouraged at all levels including our clients, staff members, and leaders alike.  We were working in a culture that fostered role modeling and “walking the walk” especially for leaders.  I feel fortunate to have developed early on in my career practical and useful feedback tools and strategies.  I have been told that my feedback style is communicated in a kind and direct way.     

Later down the road in my career, I learned that these feedback practices are not the norm in other organizations.  When I ask folx about when “feedback” usually happens in their workplace, they report it occurs at two common times:  during performance appraisals or during disciplinary conversations that happen following some kind of wrongdoing.  And if that is the norm within an organization or a leadership practice, it sets a negative and unhealthy precedent. 

So how do we create, build, and support a culture where feedback carries and takes on a different meaning whether you are in a leadership role or are an aspiring leader? 

I would first invite you to think about feedback as being another word for active listening, information gathering, opportunity, and a way to create more meaning in your professional relationships.

We give feedback all the time.  Every time we speak, our tone of voice, the words we use, the silences we allow, we communicate feedback.  We cannot not give feedback – it just happens all the time. 

The question is are we effectively managing our feedback communication?

Since we come from varied walks of life, diverse backgrounds and experiences, and everything that makes us unique, we all have different perspectives, views, opinions, and triggers.  For each of us, certain behaviors may have a different impact on us in the workplace.  As a leader, though, there should be some clear guidelines and parameters that help you identify behaviors to address.  And of course, we do know in the workplace there are legal and defining behaviors that violate health and safety, discrimination, and harassment policies for example. 

So, let us explore some common workplace behaviors that you have or may encounter as a leader of your team:

1.      Poor Time Management: Consistently misses deadlines or is frequently late for meetings.

2.      Lack of Accountability:  Avoiding responsibility for mistakes or not owning up to one's actions.

3.      Insubordination:  Disregarding directives or refusing to follow instructions from supervisors.

4.      Negative Attitudes:  Displaying a consistently pessimistic or uncooperative demeanor that affects team morale.

5.      Communication Issues:  Poor communication skills, including ineffective listening, unclear messages, or lack of transparency.

6.      Conflict Avoidance: Avoiding or not addressing conflicts within the team or with colleagues.

7.      Micromanagement: Overly controlling or excessively monitoring team members, hindering their autonomy.

8.      Lack of Initiative:  Failing to take proactive steps or show initiative in carrying out tasks or projects.

9.      Resistance to Change:  Displaying a strong aversion to new processes, technologies, or organizational changes.

10.   Poor Teamwork: Not collaborating effectively with team members or causing disruptions within the team.

11.   Unreliable Work Ethic:  Inconsistency in work performance, including periods of low productivity or missed targets.

12.   Inappropriate Conduct:  Engaging in behaviors that violate workplace ethics or create a hostile work environment.

13.   Poor Adaptability:  Struggling to adapt to changes in job responsibilities, expectations, or company policies.

14.   Failure to Meet Expectations: Consistently falling short of performance expectations or not meeting set goals.

15.   Lack of Professionalism: Behaving in a manner inconsistent with professional standards, such as inappropriate language, attire, or conduct.

These are just some examples.  Here are a few questions that I have for you:

·        What are the behaviors that pose a greater challenge for you or may be difficult to address and deal with? 

·        What are the difficult behaviors that you have had some success in managing?

·        What are some of the barriers for you in giving feedback?

We all have barriers to feedback.  Even though I have been practicing my feedback skills for many years, there are often when I get anxious or concerned about giving feedback.  

Here are some barriers that may present themselves.  As you read these, please take note of which ones are most prominent for you.   

1.      Fear of Negative Reactions:

You may be hesitant to give feedback due to the fear of a negative response from the recipient. This fear can lead to avoidance of critical conversations, hindering the growth and development of the individual.

2.      Lack of Time: 

Busy schedules and numerous responsibilities can make it challenging for you to find the time for thoughtful and constructive feedback. The perceived time constraints may result in delayed or rushed feedback.

3.      Unclear Communication Skills: 

You may struggle with effectively articulating your thoughts and providing clear feedback. Poor communication skills can lead to misunderstandings and make it difficult for the recipient to grasp the intended message.

4.      Avoidance of Conflict: 

You might avoid giving feedback to prevent potential conflicts or uncomfortable situations. This avoidance can hinder an individual's progress and hinder the overall team's performance.

5.      Concerns About Employee Morale: 

You may worry that giving constructive feedback could negatively impact employee morale. You may fear that individuals will become demotivated or disengaged, potentially leading to a decrease in overall team morale.

What may be the best lens to operate from about feedback?

Feedback is not all negative.  It is an opportunity to motivate.  Expressing appreciation for a job well done, to inspire and motivate allows each other to know what we are doing well and what we should continue doing.

Feedback is essential to helping us be the most effective and the best we can be in our roles.  It is a gift and an opportunity we give to others and ourselves.

Brene Brown, a psychologist, author, and professor has brought forward the power of vulnerability.  She has written many books, one entitled Daring Greatly, which some of you may be familiar with.

Here is one of her quotes. 

“Daring greatly is the courage to be vulnerable it means to show up and be seen. To ask for what you need to talk about how you’re feeling to have the hard conversations” Brene Brown

Agreed, right?  Interestingly, what I have found is it is hard to be candid in the workplace.  Now let me extend that comment, some things are “easy” to be candid about while there may be a lot of things that are difficult and tricky.


Giving and receiving feedback requires vulnerability.  How much am I willing to put myself out there and how much am I willing to expose myself?

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage are not always comfortable, but they are never weakness.”  Brene Brown 

Giving and receiving feedback takes courage.    

Here are 4 tips to develop your feedback style:

1.      Obtain a Feedback Mindset & Be Human:

Having a feedback mindset refers to adopting an attitude and approach that values and actively seeks feedback as a means of personal and professional growth. Individuals with a feedback mindset are open to giving and receiving constructive criticism, suggestions, and input from others, and they see feedback as a valuable tool for improvement.

Show your humanness.  Approach any feedback conversation from a place of caring and concern.  

2.      Be Specific and Objective:

Clearly outline the behavior or performance that needs addressing. 

Use concrete examples to illustrate your points, making the feedback more tangible and actionable.

Focus on observable actions rather than making generalized statements.  Ensure that this is something that the person can do something about.


3.      Balance Positive and Constructive Feedback:

Start the conversation with positive aspects of the individual's performance or strengths or simply share an observation. 

Articulate areas for improvement, ensuring that the feedback is balanced and not solely focused on the negative.

Reinforce the idea that feedback is meant to facilitate growth and development.


4.      Encourage Two-Way Communication:

Create an open and supportive environment that encourages individuals to share their perspectives and thoughts.  Listen to gain insight into what may be contributing to a certain behavior. 

Actively listen to the recipient's response and be open to a dialogue.

Be attentive to exploring if this is a skill or resource deficit or a perceived or real inability to do what you are required.  

Collaboratively establish goals and action plans for improvement, fostering a sense of ownership and commitment.


Check on my video illustrating how to give feedback:

Remember, effective feedback is a crucial aspect of leadership that contributes to the growth and development of individuals and the overall success of the team.


“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  George Bernard Shaw


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