Feedback: Where to give it and how to receive it

Paul Butler, Newleaf Training and Development. Submitted photo

In last week’s column, I focused on how to give positive and negative feedback. Remember, I said when giving positive feedback we should focus on the person and when giving negative feedback, we should focus on the behavior — separating the person from the behavior.

When giving positive feedback, I suggested we should use the verb “to be.” When giving negative feedback, we should focus on the verb “to do.”

This week, I promised to focus on where to give feedback and how to receive feedback. Very few supervisors, managers or senior leaders have been trained how to give feedback and certainly don’t seem to give much thought as to where they should give feedback. There’s a lot of nonsense out there about where to give feedback. Some communication experts will say, “Praise in public and correct in private.” There is some wisdom in that statement but I’d respond with another cliché — “One size doesn’t fit all.” Or use another one for good measure, “Different strokes for different folks.”

What am I getting at? Well, some people don’t like being praised in front of their work colleagues. It makes them feel uncomfortable as if they’re sucking up to the boss. Someone who lacks high emotional intelligence (EQ) may not be skilled enough to understand other people and so by applying the “praise in public” adage, you could actually cause awkwardness with the person who is the subject of the praise.

At Newleaf Training and Development, we encourage those who supervise the work of others to invest a minute with the person they want to recognize for a job well done and to simply ask their permission if they wouldn’t mind being applauded and congratulated in front of their peers. Sounds like common sense — we’ve just found that common sense is not that commonly practiced.

Those who have explicit authority over others in the workplace have to be very careful about where they provide negative, performance-improving feedback. One of the attributes of great leaders is often cited as being a straight-talker. Although it’s vital to tell the truth, we do have to be careful where we call out poor performance, as it can be very embarrassing to correct someone in front of others.

So, I would most certainly agree with the second part of the cliché I mentioned above, “… Correct in private.”

Let’s turn our attention to how to receive feedback. To be crystal clear, I’m emphasizing a skill that few people have been trained on, and that’s how to receive feedback from another person — especially negative, performance-improving feedback.

The key, of course, is not to take the negative feedback personally. Even if the person giving you the feedback does a poor job in how they deliver the information to you, pause to think about your response.

There’s a gap between what happens to us and our response and it’s in that gap that we have the freedom to choose. So, choose how you’re going to respond. Thank the person for the feedback. Thank them for their perspective. Ask for more information, if necessary, to aid your understanding of his/her perception. Request some time to think through the feedback before you offer a response — maybe an hour, or the end of the day or ask if you can pick this up the following day.

Once you’ve had time to digest and reflect upon the feedback, consider what you can learn from the situation. Have the humility to implement the necessary changes. Ask the person if you can visit again at some point in the future to discuss how you’re doing with improving upon the situation.

However, if you genuinely believe the person’s perception is inaccurate and/or if there were some mitigating circumstances, politely ask if you can meet privately to explain your concerns. I encourage you to make some written notes ahead of this meeting so that you don’t get animated in the heat of the discussion because of the emotions often involved with such a situation.

In summary, think carefully about where you give feedback and, if you’re on the receiving end of negative feedback, pause to think before you respond.

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Signal. For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected].

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