“We all need people who will give us feedback: that’s how we improve.” Bill Gates

Have you ever given what you believe to be well thought out, developmental feedback with good intent, sensed it to be well delivered and then have had it fall flat, or worse be poorly received?

Recently in working with a colleague, I had occasion to deliver what I thought to be some very pertinent feedback. Not only did I call upon all my coaching tools, but I also went through my mental checklist to make sure that I had paid attention to the essentials i.e. active listening, how to give effective feedback and also giving consideration to;

  1. Helpful intention: only adding beneficial information not personal views.
  2. Place and time: choose a place of mutual territory, to create calm and promote focus.
  3. Keeping it informative: and descriptive and not an evaluative judgement.
  4. Be precise: and succinct.
  5. Giving control: focus on behaviour and allow control by the listener.
  6. Welcome feedback: observe when asked to give feedback.
  7. Picking and choosing when: you want your recipient to be in the best frame of mind and of balanced emotions.
  8. Keeping the balance: ensure positive feedback is matched fairly with constructive critique.
  9. Have you been understood? Ask your listener to feedback or to rephrase to you.

And, I am fairly sure I paid attention to the non-verbal cues i.e. facial expression, eye contact, voice and posture. Emma Seppala wrote an article on empathetic feedback for HBR and discovered that,

‘Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly reading each other’s facial expressions and body language. Imagine that you are the person walking into someone’s office to receive feedback or that you are in an interview. By definition, your boss or the interviewer is in the position of power. You are probably paying close attention to their facial expression and nonverbal cues to get an idea of where they are coming from and how they are responding to you.’

Ok, so in my mind, I had checked all these boxes yet the conversation did not go as planned!

Not only did I feel as though the feedback was not well received, I felt demotivated and discouraged, as I am sure many of you have. So what went wrong and what can we do to avoid this…

Yes, it’s important to offer developmental feedback but there is more to it than that – there is a whole emotional side that is often under explored and also a self (positive) confirmation bias – we want positive feedback and reinforcement and this can mean delivering developmental feedback is not only difficult but can be downright unpleasant.



What else can you do….

Most of us agree that ‘feedback is a gift’, it is useful… etc.. BUT it can also be messy – well received or not! So, what else can we do to improve both the sender and receivers experience…

Do your due diligence

To what extent have you been clear in your instructions and/or expectations of the desired task or behaviour(s) particularly as they relate to the feedback you are giving? Has the person actually understood what you are looking for, and have you checked for this understanding? What could you do to check for understanding?

Take the emotional temperature

How emotive is the feedback? More often than not, feedback touches a nerve – whether it is pride of work; ownership of a task/output, or something more personal such as a person’s style of communicating – feedback even when focused on ‘the behaviour’ still touches upon human emotions. It’s always worth noting: what emotion is this feedback likely to evoke?

Recognise that feedback can be messy (but is part of your job as a manager or leader)

In Emma Seppala’s article for HBR she also stated that, ‘Rather than seeing the feedback situation as “work” or something you need to just get through, see the conversation as an opportunity to connect with another person who has their own needs and pain. Everyone, at some point, goes through tough times, sad times, painful times. By remembering the human experiences we all share, you will find that you are able to bring kindness and compassion into the conversation. If you are giving feedback, you will probe into what has prompted your employee to act a certain way and you will find the right words to encourage a different type of behavior. Research shows that employees feel greater loyalty and are inspired to work harder for managers who are compassionate and kind.’

There are times when feedback flops. A maladapt sender (manager), a closed receiver who is for a variety of reasons not able to receive the feedback, a culture that doesn’t truly value feedback…. have you considered the readiness for feedback – by the person, the team or the organisation? What happens when a person is not ready to hear this particular message, and if so, what can you do about it?

If you feel your feedback hasn’t been received well it may be advantageous to allow the recipient time to digest and revisit at an agreed time. If emotions are running high neither parties will gain much. Sometimes it’s best to observe and reconvene at another suitable point.

This can cause quite the entanglement and can effectively invalidate feedback and halt progression if not strategically managed- if our feedback is not balanced and useful to the individual and in alignment to the organisation.


How do to it right

It is worth taking the time to invest in thoroughly understanding the individual you are wanting to offer feedback to- and to reflect positive and negative feelings: acknowledge what you noticed but remember not to tell someone how they feel. Feedback should be relative within the role of the organisation they are in and how they can truly find use in your guidance,

A good example of how to offer this is given in the quote below;

“Juan’s top two strengths, in terms of their impact on the business, are his strategic thinking and his ability to build strong relationships. More on that shortly. The most important gap for Juan to address to get to the next level is how he navigates conflict. Our organization is very direct and values leaders who confront issues head on, without inauthentic positivity. The pattern for Juan is that when he does not agree with a colleague’s position, he remains silent about his opposition. I’m not sure why he does this, but the impact is that I think he is in agreement when he is not. And later, when he shares his opposition with me, it is frustrating to me because we have already put a plan in place based on the belief that he was in agreement. It causes rework and it lowers my trust in him. Let me give you a few examples of when this has happened…”

The above excerpt is taken from Jennifer Porter’s article that she wrote for HBR, where she suggests that its strategic developmental feedback that will truly enlighten: and be beneficial to the individual. By taking a look at the bigger picture and focusing on taking the time to ensure your feedback is in alignment with the business that person works within can then offer specific factual and behavioural examples that they can improve upon.

Looking for patterns and impact along with specific examples is of greater value to the person you are offering feedback to and enables clear driven purpose and strategy.

If you are the one receiving the feedback remember how hard it is to offer a balanced viewpoint and take your time before responding. Don’t allow your emotions to overrule you and react before you’ve had a chance to digest, think with clarity and with a level head.

Remember we can choose how we respond and our behaviour provokes a consequence for how we react. Bear in mind that feedback is always an opportunity for growth.


The impact and the outcome of constructive developmental feedback (and why it’s still important)


The drawback of giving feedback when it’s not welcomed is that it becomes unbalanced. Naturally it’s harder to digest feedback that may be hard to hear (even if the person offering the feedback is following all of the rules). But what we must remember is that it’s intention should be constructive and its importance is to enable development of ourselves and our role within the organisation.

By incorporating compassion and kindness within developmental feedback it shows not only that we understand but that we place value in our peers, employees and leaders. It enables our empathy to present understanding and to produce relevant and useful feedback to impact, enhance and align productive growth and positive change both within the individual and the business.

Constructive and strategic feedback creates a culture and environment all individuals within any organisation can be a part of: it can genuinely and positively impact and assist the organisation to flourish and shine.

“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.” Elon Musk

If you feel that you or your organisation would benefit from leadership development, including coaching and mentoring, please get in touch to explore the possibilities open to you. I look forward to hearing from you!

Also, please download my coaching programme brochure – Women’s Leadership Coaching – For Women in Development – specifically designed for women working in global development.

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 Email me: palena@unabridgedleadership.com

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