Feedback Fluency: How to Give & Get Feedback in a Professional Setting

As a leader, recognizing the purpose of feedback is crucial—it’s not about pointing out flaws, but about empowering individuals to unleash their full potential.

Feedback is the compass that guides teams toward success. Beyond a routine communication process, feedback provides direction and clarity. It illuminates a path to improvement, ensuring that individuals and teams are aligned with organizational goals.

Embarking on a journey as a seasoned leader has taught me several invaluable lessons about the transformative power of feedback. When wielded with intention and care, it is not merely a communication tool but a catalyst for growth, used to foster engagement and propel development within teams and individuals.

Understanding the Purpose of Feedback

In my experience, feedback is not a one-size-fits-all approach to performance evaluation; it is a customized roadmap tailored to each person’s unique journey. More than just a series of critiques or commendations, feedback should be framed as  an unfolding narrative, revealing the nuances of strengths waiting to be amplified and areas of improvement yearning for attention.

Constructive criticism, the cornerstone of effective feedback in a professional setting, should be offered as a guiding light. It is an invitation to delve deeper, to unearth hidden potentials, and to refine skills that might previously have been overlooked.

Reflecting on moments when I, too, stood at the receiving end of constructive criticism, I can attest to the pivotal role this feedback played in steering me toward a path of continuous improvement. It wasn’t always easy to embrace, but it was undeniably crucial for my growth.

Insightful observations embedded in feedback can help us understand the impact of our actions. It’s like having a mirror held up to our professional selves, allowing us to see the ripple effects of our decisions and behaviors. As a leader, providing such insights to your team members involves not only pointing out what went right or wrong but fostering a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness between actions and outcomes. My own journey has taught me that these insights, when shared thoughtfully and with intention, can spark profound realizations and catalyze positive change within individuals and teams.

Feedback is not just a tool—it is a narrative we co-create with each member of our team. It is a dialogue that transcends performance reviews and becomes a continuous, evolving conversation about growth, improvement, and shared success.

Creating a Feedback Culture

Building a constructive feedback culture is akin to tending to a garden: It necessitates intentionality, consistent effort, and a commitment to the flourishing growth of individuals and the team as a whole.

Much like a gardener tends to delicate plants, leaders must provide careful nurturing of their team members to cultivate a thriving feedback culture. This involves creating spaces for open dialogue, where staff feel comfortable expressing their thoughts.

One tangible strategy is organizing regular, casual team meetings, team-building activities, or off-site retreats. These events foster trust and camaraderie, creating an atmosphere where team members can share ideas and feedback in a more relaxed setting.

Consistency is the water that sustains the roots of a feedback culture. Establishing regular feedback mechanisms, such as monthly check-ins or quarterly reviews, provides a structured framework for employee engagement.

A commitment to growth is the sunlight that fuels a feedback culture. Leaders should exemplify this commitment. Personal growth plans, where team members collaboratively set and pursue professional development goals, can be an effective strategy.

A well-nurtured feedback culture provides fertile ground for innovation and continuous improvement. Encouraging a mindset of experimentation and celebrating failures as learning opportunities is crucial. Personal anecdotes of how embracing feedback in a professional setting has led to innovative solutions can inspire the team.

Additionally, implementing “innovation challenges” where team members are encouraged to propose and implement improvements based on feedback keeps the culture dynamic and forward-thinking.

A feedback culture flourishes when fear is replaced by a fearless embrace of constructive criticism.

Giving Effective Feedback

To become effective feedback providers, leaders must possess the skills to deliver feedback constructively and impactfully. In this section, we will discuss strategies to assist new and seasoned leaders in delivering feedback that is specific, actionable, and focused on behaviors, rather than personal attributes. This feedback should also strike a balance between positive and constructive.

Here are some strategies and techniques that can assist leaders in providing impactful feedback:

  • Be specific and objective: Instead of vague statements, provide specific examples of behaviors or actions that warrant feedback in a professional setting. For instance, instead of saying, “Your presentation was not well-prepared,” you can say, “During the presentation, you missed some important points and lacked visual aids to engage the audience.”
  • Use the “Sandwich technique”: Start by acknowledging the person’s strengths or positive aspects related to the situation. Then, provide your constructive feedback, highlighting specific areas for improvement. Finally, end with positive feedback by reiterating their potential and expressing confidence in their ability to improve. This approach helps balance constructive criticism with encouragement.

For example, “Your creativity in brainstorming ideas is impressive. However, in future discussions, please try to be more attentive and responsive to others’ suggestions. I have confidence that, with your skills, you can create an even more collaborative environment.”

  • Focus on behavior and impact: When providing feedback, emphasize the impact of the behavior on individuals or the team’s goals. This approach takes the focus away from personal attributes and ensures that the feedback is more constructive. Instead of saying, “You’re disorganized,” you can say, “Your uncompleted task list caused delays in the team’s progress and affected our ability to meet the deadline.”
  • Provide actionable suggestions: In addition to identifying areas for improvement, offer practical solutions or suggestions for growth and development. This helps individuals see a clear path forward. For example, instead of simply pointing out a weakness in someone’s communication skills, provide advice like, “To enhance your communication, consider joining a public speaking workshop or seeking peer feedback on your presentations.”
  • Use positive language: Frame your feedback in a positive and motivating manner to inspire individual and team growth and development. Focus on how to improve rather than dwelling on mistakes. For example, instead of saying, “You messed up this task,” rephrase it as, “Next time, let’s work together to ensure we meet all the project requirements.”

Receiving Feedback Gracefully

In the realm of leadership, the ability to give feedback is often extolled. Equally crucial, however, is the capacity to receive feedback. Real leaders must recognize that no matter their level of experience or authority, there is always room for improvement.

Receiving feedback gracefully is not always easy, especially when it involves hearing critical comments about your work or behavior. As the person on the receiving end, it is natural to feel defensive, personally attacked, or offended, particularly when it is not what you want to hear or goes against your self-image. However, whether you are a team member or a supervisor, as an aspiring leader, it is crucial to adopt a growth mindset and use feedback as an opportunity to learn and improve.

Here are some tips for receiving feedback gracefully:

  • Listen actively: When receiving feedback, listen attentively and avoid interrupting. Make a conscious effort to understand the other person’s perspective and ask follow-up questions to clarify their points. Focus on the message and not the messenger—constructive feedback is about the person’s behavior or actions, not their character.
  • Take a pause and reflect: After receiving feedback, take some time to reflect on what was said before responding. This can help you process the information and evaluate its relevance. Resist the urge to become defensive or dismissive. Instead, try to stay curious. Be mindful of your body language. Try to stay open and receptive.
  • Respond with curiosity and respect: Responding to feedback with a curious and respectful attitude can help you engage in meaningful dialogue about your performance. Thank the person for their feedback and ask clarifying questions if necessary. Let the individual know that their input is appreciated and taken seriously.

Leaders who embrace feedback as an opportunity to improve can create a stronger feedback culture that inspires continuous learning and development throughout an organization.

Overcoming Challenges in Feedback Exchange

The exchange of feedback is not always smooth sailing. Challenges can arise due to varying personalities, communication styles, or even organizational dynamics. Addressing issues head-on is essential for a consistent and effective feedback culture.

Here are two of the most common challenges to effective feedback delivery and strategies to overcome them:

Challenge: Individuals within a team often possess varying communication styles, leading to misunderstandings during feedback exchanges.

Strategy: Fostering a communication-aware culture is key. Leaders can initiate team-building activities that focus on enhancing communication skills, ensuring everyone understands and appreciates diverse ways of expression. Additionally, providing clear guidelines for feedback delivery can create a shared language within the team, making it easier to navigate different communication styles.

Challenge: Some team members may resist feedback due to personal insecurities, fear of judgment, or a lack of trust.

Strategy: Sharing personal stories of receiving and implementing feedback, especially during vulnerable moments, can break down barriers. Furthermore, incorporating feedback into regular team meetings, such as goal-setting and project debriefs, helps normalize its importance and reduce resistance over time.

The Role of Feedback in Career Development

Leaders invite feedback and encourage team members to do the same. Consistently seeking feedback creates a feedback loop that is instrumental in shaping one’s career trajectory.

By fostering a mindset that views feedback as a catalyst for growth rather than mere evaluation, aspiring leaders create an environment where learning is continuous. This proactive approach enables individuals to identify and amplify their strengths, leveraging them for optimal impact in their roles.

Moreover, feedback illuminates blind spots and areas for improvement that might otherwise go unnoticed. Embracing feedback with openness and humility allows aspiring leaders to confront challenges, refine their skills, and chart a deliberate path toward professional growth.

Taking actionable steps based on feedback is the linchpin of this transformative process. Rather than viewing feedback as a one-time event, individuals committed to career development incorporate it into their daily routines. They actively seek feedback from mentors, colleagues, and team members, creating an ecosystem where insights are shared openly, leading to continuous refinement and enhancement of their professional capabilities.]

Giving and receiving feedback doesn’t have to be a painful experience—in fact, it should be the opposite! By establishing and contributing to a feedback culture in your professional environment, you can ensure your team members are safely on the road to success. For more on how to put your best foot forward and positively impact your team members’ professional lives, check out my Real Leadership Roadmap.

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“The scarcest resource in the world is not oil, it’s leadership.”

As Co-CEO of the largest independent financal services company in North America, John Addison’s skill as a leader was tested and honed daily. He retired in 2015 after taking the company and it’s people to massive heights. He’s just not done helping people get to the top. Today, he’s at the helm of Addison Leadership Group, INC working daily to mentor and educate new leaders.