September 4, 2020

Why is giving (and getting) feedback so hard?


Giving and receiving constructive feedback is incredibly important to furthering your personal and professional goals in life. While it may be awkward or challenging to deliver and receive, it’s critical in moving the needle to reach your goals. I recently finished up “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown, which is timely for this article. In her book, she describes why it’s so hard for people to give/receive feedback with these 2 points:

  1. We’re not comfortable with hard conversations.
  2. We don’t know how to give and receive feedback in a way that moves people and processes forward.


Giving Feedback 

I saw a post on LinkedIn by Taylor Howard that I thought summed it up quite nicely:

If you’re nervous to give a direct report criticism, try this:


Ask yourself “why now?”

Have an example of your own failure

Prepare your talking points

Deliver it in less than 60 seconds

Leave some things unsaid

Bring solutions

End the conversation on excitement for the future


Be prepared. Be friendly. Be concise.


Other tips:

  1. Schedule time to sit down and give feedback. Deliver feedback in private, ideally during your weekly one on one with the person.  Avoid delivering feedback in passing or in a group setting.
  2. Make it a two-way conversation rather than dumping information on a person.
  3. Focus on the behavior of a person, not their personality. 
  4. Make it timely and specific. Don’t wait 3 months to tell someone they are doing something wrong. Making generic statements like “You’re always negative” or “You never take initiative” without being able to call out examples is counterproductive. Having specific examples will create a more productive conversation without the person feeling like they are being attacked.
  5. Think of giving feedback as a sandwich. The top bun is where you begin with positive comments related to the scenario. The meat and contents of the sandwich are where you give the criticism. The bottom bun is where you circle back to the positives and remind the person of their strengths. Offer your support and leave things on a high note.
  6. When you give feedback that is critical, demonstrating that you, yourself, (as the manager) made similar mistakes in the past and illustrating how you worked through those errors makes it all seem more of a learning opportunity than a slap on the wrist.


Receiving Feedback

  1. Leave out the emotions, justifying and defensiveness. It’s a natural instinct when someone is telling you something you don’t want to hear to get defensive, but try to remember that they are only trying to help you get closer to your goals. Even if you don’t agree with what you’re hearing, it’s still something that someone perceives of you and perception is oftentimes reality.
  2. Confirm with your manager that you understand the feedback
  3. Thank the person who is giving you feedback. If no one is telling you you’re doing something wrong, how will you ever know what you need to change?
  4. Everyone wants to improve. All feedback is all usable data even if it’s negative. It’s hard not to take things personally, but the way you react to the feedback will dictate what happens next.
  5. If you react negatively to feedback, people will probably stop giving you feedback or will be less inclined to want to help you improve.


The best way to avoid being caught off guard with negative feedback is to continually ask for feedback. Even better – show your work. Don’t spend 3 days straight on a project without coming up for air. Do 5% of it and then make sure it is what your manager is expecting. 


Ask your manager what you can do to make their job easier. If you finished a successful project or closed a deal, ask your manager or peers what you could have done differently to make things more efficient.


Remember: performance reviews should not be the first time you are hearing things you could be approving upon. Feedback is a continuous process and should be discussed in 1:1s, team and company meetings at a regular cadence.


If you have any questions or would like to chat further, feel free to reach me at

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