There is no failure, only feedback!

Feedback is the gift that keeps on giving!

I love feedback – don’t get me wrong it can hurt like hell, strike you right in the gut and it can play on your mind for days… but I love it all the same, because it’s an opportunity to learn. When I hear those words ‘Kathryn, are you open to some feedback?’, which I always am, I know I immediately hold my breath and brace myself for what is coming next. All my non-verbal cues are probably communicating anything but ‘yes please, I love feedback’.

I think we all feel this way about feedback and I think this is because it makes us feel vulnerable. Vulnerability is a key leadership skill, recognising that we are not perfect, we have blind spots, we are open to learn and improve is a great strength, not a weakness. So whilst it might be uncomfortable, open yourself to feedback, ask for it, embrace it!

You understand and learn about yourself better when you are prepared to receive feedback, to seek out and hear what others think, and then reflect on this.

The 100 Year Life – Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott

Another key aspect to feedback discussions is how amazing they are at building trust in a relationship. Having an open and honest discussion, where you are both willing to listen and learn, opening your minds to each others perspective and challenge both of your assumptions, fosters a great relationship – they are such a good conversation to have with someone, it is a shame people shy away from them so much!

I think people shy away from it because there is a skill or things to have in mind when giving feedback. My tendency to brace myself for feedback is most likely because I have been on the receiving end of feedback that has been delivered in a way that has been one way, which has left me confused and unable to decide how to move forward. So, you do need to give some time to thinking about the feedback you want to give, but don’t overthink it! To help you with this, I have picked up some tips over the years which I have shared below…

Top Tips for Giving Feedback

  1. Intention – always give feedback with a kind heart, good intentions and be true (‘I mean you no harm’, ‘Do be kind and true’) Give feedback with the intention that you believe the other person has agency, you believe in their ability to receive and learn from the feedback – your intention should be adult to adult, not a power trip!
  2. Avoid the sh*t sandwich (this is where you say something positive, say something developmental, say something positive)- I know this is a technique many people like, but for me and from my experience in HR, I don’t like it and it doesn’t work. Do one or the other, don’t try to ‘soften the blow’ or ‘dress it up’ – when you do that you create fear around feedback and it loses its meaning. People don’t hear and learn from the vital information you are trying to share with them as it gets tangled and hidden with the other guff you have added around it. Feedback is a learning experience and if your intentions are good, why feel the need to do anything other than share with the person what you need to say and what they probably really need to hear?
  3. Believe in what you are saying – when giving feedback people want to talk it through and have a discussion about it so they can learn. If you are flimsy or you don’t really believe in the feedback you are giving, this can be really confusing for the person and can cause the person you are giving feedback to, to have a negative reaction. I experience this a lot when people want me to give feedback to another on their behalf, rather than being brave/able to have the conversation themselves (it creates far more problems than it solves). In these situations, coach the person to be able to give their feedback directly to the person
  4. You can give positive feedback – people often focus on giving constructive/developmental feedback and are either silent or give limited information when someone has done something really well. In positive situations people typically say ‘great job’, ‘well done’. Providing positive feedback where you give details and information on what was great or done well can have a massive impact on development and motivation
  5. Timing – you need to give feedback in the moment. Waiting for your next meeting or 121 loses the impact and impetus of the feedback. What I tend to see is people putting it off until the next 121 and then saying nothing at all, because, well, it was ages ago and isn’t relevant anymore. By doing that, you have let your colleague down. Your feedback, in that moment, could have been a great opportunity for learning which is now lost – booooo!
  6. Ask – this links with some of the tips above, I always ask the person if the time is right to give feedback and/or if they are open to feedback. Asking for permission demonstrates an adult to adult approach and signals your intention. It also gives the other person the ability to say ‘No’ – which is okay. You never know what is truly going on for another person, they might have to leave to pick up children or have heard some difficult news. If someone says no, accept their response and ask when would be a better time or ask again tomorrow.

Feedback Techniques

Positive feedback

‘The three things I love about what you have done are 1)…, 2)…,3)… ‘ ‘What are your thoughts?’ ‘How are you feeling?’ ‘What will you take forward next time you do this?’

I love using this feedback technique, it feels really motivational and energising.

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Developmental Feedback

‘When you …..(describe the situation/behaviour, the more specific you can be the better)

‘What happens is….. (explain the impact this is having on you, the task, activity, people)

‘Tell me how you see the situation?’ (open it up for discussion, understand their viewpoint)

‘What would you like to do going forward?’

‘What do you need from me?’ ‘How can I support you with that?’ ‘What can I do differently?’

The great part of this feedback technique is the discussion part – Tell me how you see the situation?. It creates a great open and honest discussion, that further builds trust. It demonstrates you are equally prepared to listen and learn… who knows you might have made some assumptions that you need to learn and reflect on?

Another technique I love which is quick and easy, in the moment and is great for groups/teams ….

‘I am observing ….. (say the behaviour or situation you are seeing)

‘What do you think the impact of this is?’

What would you/the group/the team like to do going forward?’

This is a great technique to use in team meetings if you are noticing things are going off track or you are noticing behaviours in others that are not conducive to the discussion. Keep your observations general, don’t finger point i.e. I am noticing people may be starting to feel frustrated, What is the impact of this? (wait for answer and then ask..) What do we want to do going forward?

Photo by Gerd Altmann on

I hope my musings on feedback are useful, I will probably write about this topic again as I lots of thoughts on this! If you would like to learn more, I recommend the podcast ‘Manager Tools’

There is no failure, only feedback