Paul Butler | Giving and receiving feedback

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile

Ken Blanchard, author of “The One Minute Manager” is credited with saying, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” I appreciate the profound practicality that suggests feedback should be digested, implying it can fuel our day and improve performance.  

I’d like to offer two additional considerations to Ken’s work: Firstly, the person receiving the feedback must be willing to receive it, and secondly, very few people have been trained on how to give feedback.  

Let’s begin with the person receiving the feedback. Recently, I heard someone say that when a person offers feedback to us, we should, “Just lay down.” I like that turn of phrase. It’s so easy, especially when receiving negative feedback, to want to bristle our feathers and argue our way out of the issue someone has with us. Our ego can so easily puff up that we don’t hear what’s being offered to us for breakfast.  

The only two words I’d add to the wisdom of laying down are “and listen.” See, someone may be able to suppress their own ego to lay down or, more practically, sit down to receive the feedback, but that doesn’t mean they’ll actually listen to it. So, “Lay Down and Listen” is a good reminder when receiving feedback. The Giver cares enough about you, the organization, and your impact to offer you the gift of feedback. So, suppress the ego and digest what’s being served.  

What can be very frustrating is if the person doesn’t want to receive feedback. The Giver has no Receiver to give to. One of two outcomes will prevail if this unhealthy situation continues. The Giver will either quit or quit and stay. I’d suggest it’s worse for someone to quit an organization and stay than just quit.  

What do I mean by “quit and stay”? Well, the person will quit offering ideas. They will quit putting their heart into their work. They’ll become a walking job description. There will be no discretionary effort. Now, you might be wondering, “Why would they stay?” Well, the job may be convenient. The pay may be above market. The benefits may outweigh the pain. But for all intents and purposes, the Giver has quit. The Receiver must be willing to receive feedback.  

Recently, I decided to step down from a voluntary role serving on a board mainly because I found the leader so ineffective. I asked him if I could provide some constructive feedback on how I believed, from my experience, he could lead our voluntary board better. I was astounded by his response when he said, “There’s no point as it would just be your opinion.” Rather than quitting and staying, I believed it was best to quit. So, I did.  

The second issue to ensure the breakfast is a healthy one is to ensure the feedback is served well. The best recipe from my experience is to ensure that when giving positive feedback, focus on the person, whereas when giving negative feedback, focus on the behavior.  

When giving positive feedback, your goal is to encourage the person to repeat their behavior. By using sentences wrapped around the verb “to be,” you can serve as an encouragement to them. Other declensions of the verb “to be” are “you are,” “you were,” “you will always be.” Use these in the positive to encourage others. For example: “You are so good at this.” By focusing on the verb “to be,” you’re speaking to the heart of the person. You lift them.  

When giving negative feedback, your goal is to encourage the person to change their behavior. By using sentences wrapped around the verb “to do,” you can help reduce the emotion, as you’re focusing on the object (the action) rather than the subject (the person). Other declensions of the verb “to do” are “you do,” “you did,” or “you tend to do.” Use these in the positive to encourage a change in behavior. For example: “You didn’t provide good customer service yesterday.” By focusing on the verb “to do,” you address the action (customer service) rather than the person’s character.  

In summary, I concur that feedback can be the breakfast of champions, but we can’t force-feed people if they don’t want feedback, and we need to ensure we serve people when offering feedback by knowing when to lift the person (“to be”) and when to address the behavior (“to do”). 

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]. 

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