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Giving, receiving and asking for feedback

Recently I received some critical feedback that shocked me. I had absolutely no idea that my interaction with this person had evoked such strong feelings. It prompted a lot of reflection.

That same week the topic of feedback came up in coaching sessions. One client was challenging the way this was done in his organisation (the dreaded performance curve!) and questioning the value of feedback when there are undoubtedly other agendas in play.  Another client was trying to find ways to gain more meaningful and specific feedback from her line manager to help with her career progression.

Inspired by these interactions here are my 5 principles for giving, receiving and asking for feedback.

  1. Respond rather than react

We are human and when someone gives us critical feedback it may trigger our fight, flight fright  response. We’ve all made the mistake of angrily tapping away a ‘reaction’ to an email – I certainly have in the past. It’s much better to think it through first and  ‘respond rather than react’

Be self-aware of your tendencies when you receive feedback. Do you jump into being a rescuer to fix the situation? Or do you react more like a victim or persecutor and react angrily and aggressively? One of my friend’s has the principle of waiting 24 hours before replying to any critical email that triggers a reaction in her.

“Our mind is like teflon for the positive, and velcro for the negative,” states neuropsychologist Rick Hanson. If you receive some critical feedback that results in your inner critic dominating your thoughts (particularly if it feels personal) it’s worth taking a step back and allowing yourself to dial up your inner mentor voice to help give yourself a more balanced perspective. Step into the shoes of the ‘feedback giver’, what might be their intention, and what is going on for them that has led to this feedback? (It may not all be about you).

Talking it through with a trusted colleague, friend, or coach can really help to give you a different perspective if it’s taking up unnecessary space in your mind.

  1. Focus on the learning

A useful structure for processing negative performance feedback is AIM (Assess–Integrate–Move Forward) as described in

Some of the most critical feedback I’ve received along my career has shaped the leader I’ve become in a positive way as I’ve integrated the learnings. It’s worth asking, ‘what does this feedback teach you about yourself and your behaviour? How can you use it for personal/professional growth? Even if you disagree with it for the most part apply the ‘1% truth’ rule. If there was just 1% of truth in that feedback, what is it, and what might I learn from it?

This article is full of ways to make feedback a learning experience for others.  There are some great tips to phrase the feedback in a forward looking, strategic and specific way.

  1. ‘Feedforward’ with positive intent

I’m a big fan of Marshall Goldsmith’s ‘feedforward approach’ Feedforward helps people envision and focus on a positive future, not a failed past. Exploring, ‘what you might do more of/less of in the future is much more effective, and specific and worthwhile than telling someone what they’ve done ‘wrong’ in the past.  It’s worth reading the whole article

During a session with one of my clients he shared with me that he’d rarely received useful feedback in his career.  When he explored this a bit deeper he was able to share the few examples where feedback had been beneficial for him. This was what they had in common:-

  1. The giver of the feedback did so with positive intent to help him.
  2. It was specific and practical with future focus.
  3. It was meaningful, providing an opportunity to learn/change behaviour.


  1. Transparency breeds trust 

I’ve recently been reading ‘Radical Candor’ by Kim Scott and I love the quote “Radical Candor is what happens when you care personally at the same time as you challenge directly”

Effective feedback is given with positive intent, it’s transparent, honest, with no agenda, and no ego. You can care personally for someone AND give them critical feedback.

Let’s face it, there’s not many of us who enjoy delivering negative feedback and it can take thought and preparation to do this effectively.  Think about the recipient’s communication style and how and when is best to explain it to them. Giving negative feedback transparently means respecting your direct reports, not controlling or alienating them.

Whatever you do don’t dress up negative feedback in a ‘sh*t sandwich’ (where you sandwich the negative feedback between two pieces of positive feedback). It’s not helpful and it lacks transparency. It also undermines what you are trying to say.

Think of giving negative feedback as a way to help the recipient improve. It’s a way for you and others to make informed choices together. Focus on mutual learning.  This approach makes your feedback feel more genuine, lowers your discomfort and their anxiety.

It’s important to remember to be specific with positive feedback too. It’s very unhelpful to be told ‘you’re doing a great job, keep doing what you’re doing’ even when this kind of statement is well intended. What specifically have you noticed they do well? What specific strengths/positive behaviours have made a positive impact on their work/others? Back it up with examples to make it really tangible and useful for their career development. Putting preparation into your feedback will make it much better quality, and beneficial for all.

  1. Seek out specific feedback

 It’s not unusual for me to hear from my clients that ‘seeking out feedback’ is not proactively carried out in their organisation. During team coaching we work with teams to establish how to create space for open feedback and learning, this is critical for individual, team, and organisational growth.

It demonstrates great strength to ask for feedback as it requires us to be vulnerable and open to criticism.

Here are a few tips to support:

  • Timing and preparation is key. It’s much better to prepare people in advance to give them time to reflect rather than put them on the spot. It’ll also increase your chances of receiving feedback that’s specific, with positive intent, and meaningful for you.
  • Ask specific questions to get specific responses
    • What have you noticed I’ve done well? What do you value most about me/my work?
    • Where do you see my strengths?
    • How would you say I’m performing vs my objectives ?
    • What could I do more of/less of?
    • What’s one piece of advice you could give me in order to progress my career here?
    • What might I need to strengthen/change/build on in order to secure a promotion/specific role?
  • Be mindful that some people may have their own, or the organisational agenda in mind when giving you feedback.

For more informal ‘feedforward’ with colleagues a simple question framework can be really helpful. Below are what I use as a framework with my team:

  • 2 things you value most about working with me.
  • 2 things I might do more of.
  • 1 thing I might change/adapt/build on for my own benefit.
  • What needs/wants do you have for 2022.


I’ve often heard people say ‘feedback is a gift’ sometimes it may be an unwanted one but there’s always something that can be learned from it.

Sources and further resources

My clients and coaching experiences.