Actionable Feedback – How to Give It, How To Get It

Those around us are in an unrivaled position to help us. We all have something more to learn. But getting and giving feedback is hard. Here’s how to do it better (enriched with a few chocolate tips).

Asking for feedback may highlight good things of which you are unaware, and help avoid blind-spots that can impede or, even derail, your career.

Soliciting Feedback

Think about who might provide you with helpful feedback. Consider all trusted colleagues; those more senior and more junior, as well as your peers. People in other departments, with different roles and responsibilities, may have an interesting outlook that’s different from yours. People outside your organization can provide fresh insight ‘bereft of’ organizational blinkers. As part of professional development you might also consider starting a peer mentoring group.

“Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you. Spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.”Amy Poehler
Golden Globe-winning and Peabody Award-winning American writer, producer, director, and actress
The roller coaster at Duisburg by Norbert Waldhausen from Pixabay
Feedback Can Be Stomach Churning – Here’s How To Keep It Constructive

Asking for Feedback

  • Ask for feedback on positive aspects: “Any thoughts on what went well in that meeting?”
  • Good feedback is constructive, i.e. actionable and reasonable: “What would a good business outcome look like with the time constraints we have?”
  • Encourage a focus on outcomes . For example: ‘consume the chocolate’. This allows you the space to figure out ‘how’ to achieve that yourself in a manner that works for you and takes advantage of your strengths.
  • When feedback is vague, good or bad, ask for an (actual) example. Hearing “Amazing, great job!” or “Not really up to scratch”, does nothing to help you understand what to focus.
  • Try and be open. Yes, it’s hard. Rejecting feedback, even gently, shuts it down. You don’t need to comment or explain anything. Say thank you. Decide later what, if anything, to do.
  • Remember feedback is context-specific to the company culture, the situation, and the person giving feedback.
  • Ask for help: “Would you have any tips on how to resize this image to fit nicely on screen?” “How could I do that differently?”
  • Give the emotional roller-coaster time to do a few loops. You’ll likely adjust your perspective overtime.
  • Focus on just one piece of feedback/chocolate at a time: change is hard.

“Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands, and then eat just one of the pieces.”

Judith Viorst

Giving Feedback

Remember that the aim of feedback is to support the person’s learning and development. You may well feel uncomfortable. Take time to prepare

  • Consider (above) what it’s like to receive feedback: Be kind.
  • Provide feedback to the person alone.
  • Carefully choose the time and place to provide feedback. Sooner is better. Do not wait for the quarter/year-end review.
  • Catch them doing things right: give positive feedback to encourage and reinforce constructive approaches.
  • Focus on outcomes. Different people will have different equally effective approaches.
    • You foster diversity by stating the desired outcome, not ‘how’ to get something done. Organizations are strengthened when there are multiple effective approaches.
  • Focus on one piece of feedback: Avoid the sandwich approach (good/bad/good). It’s unhelpful. The message get lost.
  • Later, if someone is struggling to find an appropriate approach, ask if you may make a suggestion,
    • “I wonder would xxx work”.
    • Draw attention to good example: “E did a nice job of XXX.”
  • Avoid vagueness. “Great job” and “you did amazing” is nice but unhelpful. See the ‘SBI’ feedback method below.
    • Be aware of unconscious bias (which we all have). Like cabbage-coated chocolate, avoid at all costs.
    • Photograph of a cabbage without chocolate
    • Women are more likely to receive in-actionable vague feedback.
    • Women are more frequently told they are ’emotional’ – typically they are passionate about doing things right. That is a good thing. Before proceeding, ask yourself ‘why’ this person is passionate?
    • Men more often receive positive feedback and compliments about being ‘assertive’. Women are warned against being ‘aggressive’. Test yourself to see if you are being biased. Flip the gender: if this person was <other gender,> what conclusion about the behaviour would I have?would I still give have this reaction this feedback?
  • Later, if someone is struggling to find an appropriate approach, ask if you may make a suggestion:
    • “I wonder would xxx work”.
    • Draw attention to good example: “E did a nice job of XXX.”

Focus on Successful Outcomes, Not Approaches

There are many ways to successfully eat chocolate (which is more fun than skinning cats):

i). chew,chew,chomp-up-fast,yum,yum,take-another-bite.A Stack of Chocolate Bars
ii). Hold in mouth until thoroughly coated on teeth
iii). Nibble just a littl' bit. Nibble just a littl' bit. <Repeat>
iv). Just stick it in your mouth for goodness sake: You are overthinking it.

Feedback & Your Line Manager

While ideally all feedback is helpful, your line manager deserves a specific mention. Don’t wait for the annual performance review but seeks out consultative input regularly. This might be at a monthly 1-on-1 or during / after a project.

  • Ask: “what do I need to achieve to get to the next level?”
  • Indicate your career aspirations if possible: “Would my career benefit from a stint in sales?”, “Perhaps I should apply for the XX position when it comes up. What do you think?”

SBI Feedback Template for Feedback

SBI  is a model by the Center for Creative Leadership to simply and effectively give feedback.

  • Situation: bringing the person back to a (one) specific situation / something that happened.
  • Behaviour: a description of what you observed/heard, a factual description. Avoid energetic or colourful words.
  • Impact (on me):  without projection or assumptions of motivate, here is the impact of your behaviour on me.

SBI Example 1

  • S – When F was at the partner meeting 
  • B –  S was not invited to participate in clients or higher-ups meetings
  • I – suggests to me that S was being excluded/unwelcome.

SBI Example 2

  • S – When we meet up for Lean In Ladies
  • B – the host often works with her manager to secure sustenance which
  • I – gives me hope that her manager notices her career investment.

SBI Feedback in Action

Further Resources