Rex C. Mitchell, Ph.D.
Some of the most important information we can receive from others is feedback related to
our behavior. Feedback can provide learning opportunities for each of us if we can use the
observations and reactions of others to become more aware of the consequences of our behavior.
Personal feedback can help us become more aware of what we do, how we do it, and how it
affects others - which can help us modify behaviors and become more effective in our interactions
with others. Giving and receiving feedback requires courage, skill, understanding, and respect for
self and others.
Feedback is only useful to the extent that it promotes individual and/or organizational actions
directed toward change and problem solving. The ability of feedback to serve such energizing
functions depends on both the content of the feedback and the process by which the information is
You will be more effective in giving feedback when
Are specific, rather than general
Deal with descriptions of observed behavior of the receiver, rather than inferences,
attributions, or evaluations (and focus the descriptions in terms of "more or less" rather than
Report your reactions and the impact on you, rather than labeling the characteristic or attributing
intentions of the receiver
"Own" the feedback, rather than attribute it to a third party (e.g., use "I statements")
Speak directly with the person for whom your feedback is intended
Are timely in dealing promptly with current or recent behaviors, rather than delaying
Deal only with behavior that the receiver can change
Provide feedback in moderation - limit your feedback to important points and an amount
that the receiver can realistically process at one time, rather than "dumping everything" in one
Provide feedback that is verifiable (e.g., include specific examples) to allow the receiver to
verify whether the feedback data accurately represent events and behaviors
Provide feedback to someone who is at least somewhat willing to receive it, rather than
trying to impose it
Share ideas and information, possibly help the receiver explore alternatives - rather than
give advice or solutions
Acknowledge the receiver's freedom of choice about making changes, rather than pressure
her/him to accept the feedback and change
Present the feedback as unfinalized - to stimulate further thinking and actions by the
receiver (e.g., checking out the feedback with others)
Check to make sure the receiver understands your message in the way you intend it. Use an
effective communication process, as suggested in the module on
Elements of Reliable Communication
, that checks for understanding by the receiver
Your intention is to be helpful, rather than to correct, belittle, punish, etc.
Some effective openers for giving interpersonal feedback
"Something is bothering me. May I share it with you?"
"May I give you some feedback about...?"
"I would like to talk with you about something important in our relationship; is it OK to talk now?
(or can we set a time to talk?)"
One useful form for giving feedback is:
When you ________, I felt ________, because ________
Some suggestions when receiving feedback:
When you ask for feedback, be specific in describing the behavior and/or situation about
which you want the feedback
Try to hear, inquire, and understand the feedback you receive - and resist the natural
tendency to explain or rationalize the behavior at issue
Summarize your understanding of the feedback you receive and verify that you understood
what the other person meant
Share your thoughts and feelings about the feedback
Emotional reactions to feedback are important:
The type and intensity of feelings about feedback are related to many things, including how
important the person giving the feedback is to us.
Feelings are "facts" to the person who has them. In a feedback situation, feelings need to be
brought to the surface and made discussible. All parties need to understand the feelings of
others and be able to talk about them and work with them.
It is helpful to sustain the discussion long enough for individuals (especially the person
receiving feedback) to ask for more information, reflect, surface feelings, and (possibly) to
develop alternatives and consider a decision to change.
At the level of organizational unit performance data, feedback is
more helpful if it is reported:
Directly to the manager or team who can take corrective action, in contrast to top
management or a staff department
Frequently enough to allow the manager or team to plan and take corrective actions
With enough concrete, specific information to allow the manager or team to easily identify
the problem areas (this will usually mean that the manager or team will need to be involved in
designing the reporting system)
Feedback from attitude and climate surveys tends to be more useful
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It is sought by the leader and the unit involved
Unit data and aggregate organizational data are reported to each respective manager, but
managers do not receive data specific to other units (direct comparisons with peer units tend to be
highly threatening, at least initially)
Managers plus their subordinates discuss the data and implications, make action plans, and
act (with the help of a third party until they become competent in doing it themselves)
|Last modified April 17, 2002
||Copyright 1986-2002 Rex Mitchell