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The Power of Feedback

Feedback has the potential to be either a powerful gift or a destructive weapon. It can shape our understanding of ourselves, our work, and our relationships. When delivered and received well, it can help us make transformational change. When delivered or received poorly, it can destroy trust, confidence, and motivation.

Something with that much risk can feel really scary to people. If you've ever been in a situation where you were asked for feedback on the spot without the time to be thoughtful and intentional about it, without the structure to word it well, or without the safety of knowing you weren't about to damage the relationship with that person, then you might have found yourself saying something like "You're great! I don't really have any feedback to share." while your body clenched up into a tight mass of sweaty stress. And that's without any power dynamics at play in the giver/receiver relationship. What a mine field!

One unconventional way to think about giving and receiving feedback is through the lens of reciprocity and mutual benefit. Often, feedback is viewed as a one-way street, where one person imparts their insights or criticisms onto another. However, what if we reframed feedback as a reciprocal exchange aimed at mutual growth and development?

A hand outstretched with the words, "By engaging in a dialogue rather than a monologue, both the giver and receiver can benefit from the feedback, which not only fosters a culture of collaboration and mutual respect but also encourages deeper connections and understanding between us as human beings."

Consider this perspective: when giving feedback, instead of solely focusing on pointing out areas for improvement or offering praise, approach it as an opportunity for mutual learning to gain valuable insights into the perspectives and experiences of others. Recognize that both parties involved have unique perspectives, experiences, and insights to offer. By engaging in a dialogue rather than a monologue, both the giver and receiver can benefit from the exchange, which not only fosters a culture of collaboration and mutual respect but also encourages deeper connections and understanding between us as human beings.

Feedback as a mirror

Feedback serves as a mirror, reflecting our strengths and areas for improvement. It provides valuable insights that are essential for growth. Without feedback, we might continue along a path unaware of blind spots that hinder our progress. Even with a strengths based approach, constructive feedback offers an opportunity for course correction, helping us refine our skills and reach our full potential.

The Johari Window Model is a tool developed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in 1955, designed to help people better understand their relationships with themselves and others. It has four quadrants: the Open Area, Blind Spot, Hidden Area, and Unknown Area. An optimal state is to increase the Open Area, reducing the Blind Spot by asking for and receiving feedback and reducing the Hidden Area by giving feedback and disclosing more about yourself.

Johari window

The Open Area includes aspects of oneself that are known to both yourself and others, representing qualities and behaviors that are openly shared and acknowledged. Feedback related to this area is useful when you are actively working to improve something that you are aware of and that others know you are working on, so that you can get signal on whether your words and actions are moving you in the right direction.

The Blind Spot contains things that are unknown to you but are apparent to others, often reflecting unconscious behaviors or blind spots. Feedback related to this area is often hard to hear because you haven't yet accepted or may disagree that this is something to adjust. When you feel yourself reacting to feedback defensively (assuming the feedback is well crafted and fair), it's very likely this is a blind spot. Asking for (or providing, if you are the one giving the feedback) multiple, specific examples can be helpful, as can inquiring how you might go about acting differently in a similar situation in the future. This can move you out of feeling and seeming defensive and help you open up to more possibility.

The Hidden Area encompasses aspects of oneself that are known to the individual but kept hidden from others, representing personal thoughts, feelings, or experiences that are not shared openly. For leaders in particular, being intentional about understanding your qualities and behaviors in this area and proactively sharing these with others in order to reduce the size of this quadrant can serve as a valuable framework for fostering transparency, trust, and mutual understanding. If you've ever heard someone imply that you have a poker face or that they're not sure where they stand with you, you have opportunity to share more of your Hidden Area.

Lastly, the Unknown Area contains aspects of oneself that are unknown to both the individual and others, representing undiscovered potential or aspects yet to be explored. The more open your communication and the more invested you are in self-awareness and self-development, the smaller this area is likely to become.

Effective Methods for Giving Feedback

Giving feedback effectively requires a balance between honesty and empathy. To mitigate power dynamics, it's important to create a culture where feedback is encouraged. This means consistently putting in effort to actively invite feedback as a regular part of your weekly check-ins and cultivating a safe, open, and trusting space where there isn't fear of reprisal. Whether you're giving feedback to an employee, a co-worker, or your boss, here are some strategies to use:

1. Be Mindful: When giving feedback, practice mindfulness by approaching the conversation with a calm and non-judgmental attitude. Take a moment to center yourself before providing feedback, focusing on your breath and staying present in the moment. By cultivating emotional intelligence, you can better understand the impact of your words and delivery on the recipient, fostering a more empathetic and constructive feedback exchange.

2. Be Empathetic: In "Radical Candor", Kim Scott emphasizes the importance of caring personally while challenging directly while providing feedback. This approach encourages open communication and fosters trust within teams. When people feel valued and respected, they are more receptive to feedback, leading to a culture of continuous improvement. On the other side of that spectrum, she distinguishes between being nice and being kind in feedback. She emphasizes that being nice often involves avoiding difficult conversations or sugarcoating feedback to spare someone's feelings, which ultimately hinders growth. Conversely, being kind means providing honest and caring feedback, even if it's uncomfortable, with the intention of helping someone improve and grow.

3. Be Specific: Instead of vague statements, provide concrete examples to illustrate your feedback. In "Thanks for the Feedback," Stone and Heen recommend, "Be specific in giving feedback about what is and isn't working." This clarity helps the recipient understand precisely what they did well or where they can improve.

4. Focus on Behavior: Rather than criticizing someone's character, focus on their actions or behavior. In "Crucial Conversations" by Kerry Patterson et al., the authors advise, "Describe the gap between what was expected and what was observed." This prevents feedback from feeling personal and allows for a more objective discussion.

5. Collaborate on Solutions: Don't just point out problems; offer suggestions for improvement. Joe Hirsch, in "The Feedback Fix," suggests, "Feedback is incomplete without an invitation to engage in a constructive conversation about how to improve." Collaborate with the recipient to develop actionable steps they can take to address the feedback.

Receiving Feedback Constructively

Receiving feedback can be challenging, but adopting the right mindset can turn it into a catalyst for growth. Here are some tips for accepting feedback gracefully:

1. Stay Curious and Mindful: Approach feedback with curiosity rather than defensiveness. In "Thanks for the Feedback," Stone and Heen suggest, "Viewing feedback as a source of information allows you to be less defensive and more open to learning." Tune into your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations without judgment and instead of reacting impulsively or defensively, take a moment to pause and reflect on the feedback before responding. By cultivating self-awareness and emotional regulation, you can approach feedback with openness and receptivity, allowing for deeper understanding and growth.

2. Be Empathetic: Cultivate a mindset of radical empathy towards the feedback giver. Recognize that feedback is often a reflection of the giver's own experiences, biases, and intentions. Instead of reacting defensively or dismissively, strive to understand the underlying motivations behind the feedback and the emotions driving it. By embracing radical empathy, you can foster deeper connections and trust in feedback conversations, leading to more meaningful and constructive outcomes.

3. Separate Feedback from Identity: Avoid conflating feedback with your identity. In "Feedback (and Other Dirty Words)," M. Tamra Chandler advises, "Detach your sense of self-worth from the feedback received." Recognize that feedback is about behaviors and actions, not intrinsic value as a person.

4. Ask Clarifying Questions: Seek clarification if aspects of the feedback are unclear. In "The Feedback Fix," Hirsch recommends, "Ask questions that help you understand the intention behind the feedback." This ensures that you fully grasp the feedback and its implications and will help you make the most of it.

5. Express Gratitude: Regardless of the nature of the feedback, thank the person for taking the time to provide it. In "Radical Candor," Scott advises, "Giving praise is important because it's a way to show that you care." Acknowledging their effort encourages continued open communication.

here's what it looks like in practice:

During a one-on-one, a manager provides specific examples of a team member's excellent communication skills during client meetings. They also offer constructive criticism on areas where the team member can further develop their analytical abilities. The employee listens attentively and instead of becoming defensive, the employee asks clarifying questions to better understand the manager's perspective. Together they work on actionable next steps. The employee expresses gratitude for the feedback and commits to implementing the suggested changes. The manager expresses gratitude for the employee's openness to feedback and commitment to growth.

Flourishing together

Incorporating feedback into our lives isn't always easy, but the rewards are profound. It's through feedback that we refine our skills, deepen our relationships, and ultimately, become the best versions of ourselves in partnership with others. Whether giving or receiving feedback, the most important thing to remember is to approach it with empathy, honesty, and a commitment to continuous improvement.

If you're interested in helping yourself and your team get better at giving and receiving feedback, reach out today for a complimentary consultation. I provide team feedback training that includes both theory and hands-on practice in a safe and thoughtful manner. Let's collaborate and create something together!


- Scott, Kim. "Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity." St. Martin's Press, 2017.

- Stone, Douglas, and Sheila Heen. "Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well." Penguin Books, 2014.

- Patterson, Kerry, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. "Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High." McGraw-Hill Education, 2011.

- Chandler, M. Tamra. "Feedback (and Other Dirty Words): Why We Fear It, How to Fix It." Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2019.

- Hirsch, Joe. "The Feedback Fix: Dump the Past, Embrace the Future, and Lead the Way to Change." Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.


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