How to Take the Sting out of Feedback

Recently, a friend stated that she is working to see feedback as a gift, and I think she is right to try and see it that way. However, she explained that it isn’t always an easy gift to graciously accept – feedback is often hard to welcome and isn’t on many wish lists this season.

Feedback places people in a vulnerable position. Discussing an area of weakness or skill that needs to be improved is difficult, even for the highest of achievers. No matter how well-meaning our feedback is, it can understandably create some internal stress for those on the receiving end. It is our responsibility to do what we can to create the right conditions for feedback to be received.

Here are three considerations as you plan for creating a culture that welcomes feedback:

  1. Change the Perception

Most often, employees think of feedback as a reprimand. As leaders, we can shift this perception by changing the experience of feedback. The culture and climate of your workplace should be one where feedback is given regularly, which will normalize the experience. We do not want staff to feel like we only have time to interact with them when things are going wrong. Both constructive feedback and positive feedback are important to improving performance. In fact, most research has demonstrated that if there is not an abundance of positive feedback, constructive feedback will not be well received.

  1. Be Clear About Your Intentions

Above all else, we should ask ourselves: “What is my intention?” Our intention should be to help employees learn and develop in the context of our organization. When we do this, we are better able to put employees at ease as they come to trust that our aim is to help them improve. As leaders, people are very quick to read us, and are typically not receptive to discipline or judgement masquerading as feedback. The statement, People don’t care what you know until they know that you care,is good advice to keep in mind. Our goal is to have the employee see the issue as we do, and this can best happen when we communicate without negative emotion or judgement.

  1. Err on the Side of the Positive

Remember, most staff are eager to learn and grow. However, most people do not like negative feedback, even when it is valid. If most of our feedback is negative and focused on improvement, staff will soon be demotivated. Although it is clear that there are times when we need to give negative feedback, these must be tempered with ample positive feedback. Without this balance, we risk giving the message that their work is never good enough. If there is a solid foundation of positive feedback and trust, our constructive feedback is easier to accept.

Feedback is necessary to support employee growth, motivation, and engagement. Let’s strive to create cultures where feedback can be received as a gift. This can best happen when we normalize feedback, staff trust our good intentions, and we freely offer positive validations and affirmations.


Wendy Loewen

Managing Director

Wendy is co-author of ACHIEVE’s book, The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work. This book is available on our website.

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