Learning the Art of Feedback


We have a love/hate relationship with it.

You know you need it. 

You don’t really want it. 

AND, it can be easier to give than to receive.

If only you had the skills to do both.  

Feedback was originally meant to be a neutral term. Technically, feedback includes what’s working AND what’s not working, but we only know it for the latter. 

According to Webster’s definition, there’s a reason for this:

Feedback is the transmission of evaluative or corrective information about an action or process.”

As social creatures with a negative bias, we’ll remember the corrective part at least 3x more than the positive (but some say up to 7x more!). It’s no wonder we can’t help but think of feedback in negative terms. 

But here’s the thing… 

For growth to take place in our lives, feedback IS required. 

And it’s needed everywhere…in our parenting, in our families, and on our teams. What it ISN’T, like the topic we covered a few weeks ago, is natural or comfortable. And as humans, if it doesn’t feel good or we’re not good at it, we simply resist doing it. 

AND yet, good leaders are willing to make the effort because they know what happens on the other side. They don’t wait until feedback is needed, they actively figure out how to make it part of the culture. 

The key, like anything else, is learning to do it better…one step at a time. 

Feedback is such a powerful concept in our worlds that Kim Scott, arguably this generation’s mother of the topic, has dedicated her life and platform to the idea. She calls it Radical Candor – you may have heard of it.

Radical Candor = Caring Personally + Challenging Directly

As I’ve said recently, my southern, female roots have often driven me toward the Ruinous Empathy quadrant. According to Scott, this is A LOT of people. It can also lead to damaged relationships if we’re not careful.

In her brilliant book “Radical Candor”, she explains what this is:

“​​Ruinous Empathy is “nice” but ultimately unhelpful or even damaging. It’s what happens when you care about someone personally, but fail to challenge them directly. It’s praise that isn’t specific enough to help the person understand what was good, or criticism that is sugar-coated and unclear.

Ruinous empathy doesn’t help anyone and I do not want to be known for it. 

What I DO want to be known for is the feedback that helps people grow – because I vividly remember the moments I was on the receiving end of it. These were life-changing inflection points and there aren’t nearly enough of them. 

Learning the art of giving and receiving feedback is always a work in progress. 

Here’s what stands out to me when I consider where Scott’s work intersects with my own experience:

  • Leaders go first. We should always practice soliciting/receiving feedback before we give any. When you know what it feels like to receive it, you’ll learn a lot about how to better deliver it. 
  • Praise more than criticizewith a caveat. Great praise cares deeply, WHILE ALSO challenging directly. It should tell people clearly what to do MORE of.  
  • Feedback means listening more than anything else. “Radical candor doesn’t happen by my mouth, but by the other person’s ear”. Listen more than you speak.
  • Candor must be rewarded. This goes well beyond not getting defensive – show your people you really want to hear the feedback. Go overboard if you have to drive the point home.

And what’s the greatest takeaway of all when you’re learning how to flex this muscle? Ask great questions to solicit feedback.

The next time you want feedback, use this favorite question:

What could I do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me?

Then sit back and listen.