How to give and receive feedback

September 20, 2022

What is the best way to give feedback? And how can you receive feedback effectively? What is different when giving feedback to your manager? In this interview, Psychologist Imen Besrour gives us answers.

Imen Besrour

Table of Content

Hi Imen, thanks for having this interview about "How to give and receive feedback" with us. You have a background in Psychology and also bring experience from working in consulting. We are really excited to learn more about the best tips and need-to-knows on effective feedback. Let’s start with the basics.

What actually is feedback?

Love this question. Everyone assumes knowing certain definitions; however, it is relevant to establish a common ground when discussing a relevant topic such as feedback.

Let us look at the true sense of the word: Feed-Back. You are getting fed what you have projected onto others, it, therefore, comes back to you.

It is basically the impression you have left behind. And for it to be aligned with your intentions, you need to know how people have perceived it, so you can reach your desired outcome. As we cannot (yet) know exactly how people took our behavior, we are dependent on their feedback.

It makes it not just good, but crucial for us, as social creatures, us human beings. We are contingent on others’ liking and disliking of us and what we do, and we cannot survive without it. Feedback makes us improve, learn, and develop. It is arguably the most critical and powerful aspect of teaching and learning.

What is the best way to give feedback? What are concrete examples?

The best way to provide feedback is by

  • naming the intent of it
  • and explaining why you are providing it
  • identifying specific behaviors, preferably with examples
  • and to describe the consequences of those behaviors.

It would be ideal to brainstorm a new behavior together, as the feedback receiver needs to feel autonomous in continuing a new and productive route.

Here is an example of how feedback can be provided: “In our meeting just now I witnessed you interrupting Lilly, specifically when she was mentioning XYZ. After that, I felt like she did not want to continue with her train of thought. We needed her observations as it is relevant for the next steps of our project. Did you notice it as well? How can we prevent that from happening next time?”

How do you give feedback to your manager? What particular aspects should I consider in this case?

Upward feedback is delicate, as it feels riskier than the “ordinary” kind of feedback. It is key to be thoughtful, professional and to make your leader understand that you have the company, the reputation or even their values in mind. When this is given, your feedback can be seen as an asset, rather than a potential threat to them.

If the upward feedback is directly linked to the addition of value it is also in the manager’s interest

It is also important that the manager understands why this feedback is beneficial to them and that you are an ally, not an opponent. At the same time, it is relevant to communicate calmly, clearly and assertively to highlight the impact.

Leaders are reliant on people telling them what is happening in the company and how their behavior impacts employee’s productivity, it is simply a matter of how it is delivered, rather than not delivering it at all. If the upward feedback is directly linked to the addition of value it is also in the manager’s interest, there should be no issue of “power struggle” or other risky misunderstandings.

How can I receive feedback in the best way? What should I say when I get feedback? In particular, when I disagree?

Receiving feedback is an art in itself. Sometimes, we cannot help but take things personally. If, however, feedback is given constructively, it is a valuable chance for us to grow.

Here are some of my personal hints, that I remind myself of when receiving feedback:

1. I let the person finish giving me the feedback, even if there is an urge to justify my behavior and my intentions behind it.

2. I let it sit with me for a moment and try to evaluate the situation from their perspective.

3. I personally see it as a cherry on top when people thank their counterparts for providing feedback, therefore I do express my thanks for the transparency toward me.

4. If something is not clear, I ask for a specific example, so I have a more tangible opportunity to learn from it.

5. If I still feel like it is not justified and taken out of context, I provide background information after they are finished with their point of view, so they understand the whole scenario.

If, however, the feedback is not valid at all, involve a third person who witnessed the situation and let them describe it from their perspective as well. At the end of the day, it is up to you how you take the feedback and what you do with it. Even if it might feel like it, see it from more of a distant viewpoint and not as a potential attack. If that expectation management is set, it feels better to receive feedback.

How should you ask for feedback?

As feedback is a great opportunity for growth, it is of benefit to actively seek it. If you feel like not wanting to approach your leader after every task to see how you have done, ask for a routinized jour fixe to discuss just that.

Depending on the structure of your workplace the intervals can be between a weekly, to a bimonthly basis. Then you have officially asked for their time and input on your performance once, but you have a repetitive opportunity to talk about advancements.

Also, go to colleagues and ask them how they feel about working with you. Write your areas of development down and follow up on them and see if there have been improvements. That also shows that you value their feedback, that you took it seriously, and want to implement it. When feedback is effective, it can foster a growth mindset in the workforce and contribute to organizational success.

How can feedback affect our mental health?

The process of giving and receiving feedback is inevitable and indispensable in a work environment. The workplace is not just an institution where we voluntarily spend most of our time, it leads us to build a house, provides for our families, allows us to go on vacation… ultimately to have an existence.

It is very important to know the responsibility of providing feedback

When we fear that our lifestyle or stability may be at risk because someone gave us not-so-positive feedback, it can make us anxious, overthink (worry) and dampen our mood. If we fear or worry frequently, that can turn into a (sometimes chronically) undesirable result, such as burnout.

It is therefore very important to know the responsibility of providing feedback, of potentially telling someone their impact on their surroundings and how sensitive of a situation that can be, as it could be triggering. At the same time, it is important to not take it personally when receiving feedback, but rather to see it as an opportunity to grow.

How do feedback and company culture relate to each other?

What I always want is to have several little 'aha' moments where your brain is very happy ~Kim Scott, Author of Radical Candor

Where there is a group of people, there is automatically a culture, an atmosphere.

Every organization wants its employees to feel empowered. To empower means to teach. To teach means to provide feedback. Seasoned managers know how to give and receive both positive and negative feedback for performance improvement.

However, there are enough scenarios where organizations do not provide a psychologically safe environment, where the culture could be political, hierarchical, and simply destructive to flourish. In those environments, feedback does not have a positive connotation to it and employees cannot indulge in that normally positive experience for development.

Having a healthy company culture, including psychological safety, is the basis to unlock the potential of employees and where feedback can be embraced, rather than feared.

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