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Giving and Receiving Feedback By: Nicole Bridge

As performance review season is upon many of us, in this month’s newsletter we wanted to tackle the topic of giving and receiving critical feedback. All of us will find ourselves on either side of that equation at one time or another. Effective communication starts with setting expectations. If you’re the one giving feedback, consider how your colleague prefers to receive it: In private? If it’s positive feedback, would they like to have wider recognition? If you are on the receiving end, do you have a sense of how often you need to hear feedback in order to feel confident about your work? 
From there, we are going to share some strategies for giving feedback without being off-putting and receiving feedback gracefully. Mostly, don’t underestimate the tremendous value of well-delivered critical feedback. It could be the missing piece that aligns someone who isn’t meeting their potential or set a project on track that has been slipping off the rails.  

The Anatomy of a Constructive Piece of Feedback
When communicating feedback, the goal is to stay focused and make sure the recipient of your words isn’t made to feel defensive or cynical. A three-step antidote for giving a constructive piece of feedback:
  1. Offer observable behavior or situations.
  2. Focus on the impact of their behavior. Be sure to leave plenty of room for self-discovery.  Set up the conversation so that the mentoree can come to his/her own conclusions regarding the consequences of their actions if they were to continue doing what they are doing.
  3. Finish up strong with something actionable to help them improve or course correct. 

When Offering Feedback, Be Genuine and True
A recent article in Psychology Today urged that being "sincere and authentic” is the best way to ensure positive communication. In other words, tell the truth about why you think something isn’t working or could be improved but also consider sharing your own vulnerabilities. For example, "I know what it’s like to struggle holding back when you feel passionate about something...” Sometimes using textbook techniques comes across as  stiff or disingenuous. Being yourself will make it an easier conversation for both you and your partner. 

The DISC Can Help You Get Started
When formulating your constructive feedback, the DISC model can help you determine the best approach. Here are some tips for giving feedback effectively with each DISC style: 

When giving feedback to a High D: Don’t beat around the bush. Be direct and make your point quickly. Don’t wait too long- they’d rather know right away. 
When giving feedback to a High I: All styles prefer getting feedback without an audience, but High I’s really need privacy.  They might overreact emotionally so be prepared for them to express their feelings and even deny there is a problem.  Stay away from too much data and instead send ideas for improvement in writing.

When giving feedback to a High S: Give them some time to process what you’ve said. Don’t expect for them to reveal their feelings through words or facial expressions. Be gentle yet specific and offer examples that they can relate to. Offer to revisit the conversation after they have had time to think about it.

When giving feedback to a High C: Let them know ahead of time what you plan to discuss. Be thorough and logical. Remember to provide supporting details and know that they might simply listen and take notes.  

When Receiving Feedback, Express Openness and Gratitude
Now that we’ve talked about the effort it takes to provide critical feedback, try to express gratitude when someone takes the time to share feedback with you. More often than not, they have thoughtfully considered your feelings and a meaningful plan of action that might help. Here are some additional tips for gracefully receiving feedback- even when the conversation feels rocky. 

  1. Listen fully. Don’t fidget, look into their eyes, and stay calm. Let them know they have your undivided attention. 
  2. Avoid defensiveness. Let them finish speaking. Don’t try to pin blame or snap back. It’s okay to stand up for yourself if you think they’ve gotten something wrong, but give them time to elaborate and try to listen with an open heart. 
  3. Ask questions. You might not choose to take all their advice, but at least try to understand their context for giving it. Asking questions also demonstrates your willingness to consider their comments. 
  4. Follow up. Once you’ve decided which of their recommendations you would like to follow, let them know what action you’ve taken to improve. A quick email or casual office drop in will do the trick.
Be Proactive: Feedback is Good!
Seeking feedback- instead of waiting around for someone to give it to you- will make you feel more in control. Check in with your supervisor, your team lead or a friend or colleague to ask: "How am I doing?” or "That was the first time I presented a budget item at a staff meeting.  I know you are a seasoned briefer and I’d love to hear what you thought. Could I have done anything better?” Actively collect feedback to see the full picture of how people see your performance and chart an action plan for improving.  

Use the DISC Model to Better Understand their Approach
Hearing feedback isn’t always easy- especially if it’s coming from someone who communicates differently than you do.  Here are some things to keep in mind when receiving feedback from a different DISC style:

When receiving feedback from a High D: Don’t be surprised if their words are direct and maybe even a little tough. Their ability to cut through the noise and provide exactly what you need to do next can be helpful. 

When receiving feedback from a High I: Stay positive and keep an open mind. They may find it difficult to get to the point if they sense that you are becoming defensive—so stay positive.  Also, they aren’t always consistent when monitoring results. Offer a plan for keeping in touch on your progress. 

When receiving feedback from a High S: Don’t get emotional.  Hold your tongue and let them move through their agenda. Improvising a new plan on the spot might make them uneasy. Instead, consider writing an email so they have time to think through your ideas. 

When receiving feedback from a High C: Be prepared to answer questions and provide facts. They tend to speak in a straightforward manner without dramatic flourish or small talk. Don’t take it personally and try to meet their concerns with detailed answers as best you can. 


Your mentor has definitely been on both the giving and the receiving end of critical feedback. Ask them to help you compose a list of tips and strategies that will help you communicate and listen more effectively.
  1. When you need to deliver critical remarks to a colleague, how do you first approach them?
  2. Do you use any techniques to make sure you communicate without too much emotion?
  3. How would you prefer for someone to deliver feedback to you?
  4. Do you actively seek feedback from your supervisor and colleagues? If so, how?
  5. If someone communicates feedback that’s difficult for you to hear, how do you bounce back?