The Gift of Feedback

By Michelle Witters, Human Capital Consultant

I was discussing feedback the other day with a client, and he shared an interesting story with me.  On one occasion, early in his career, he was receiving feedback from his manager on his performance. As the dialogue progressed, the manager noticed his furrowed brow, angst, and surfacing defensiveness. She paused and said, “I am giving you a gift.  What you chose to do with it is up to you.” I liked what I heard, but then thought to myself, why does feedback oftentimes not feel like a gift? The obvious answer lies in the manner in which feedback is given, after all, not everyone is gifted in the art of feedback. But I believe there is more to it. 

If you relate to this reaction, you understand that we often feel anxious and even defensive when someone offers us unsolicited feedback. This feedback – feedback that is initiated by the “giver” – can be referred to as “double arrowed” feedback. The first arrow is the unexpected, direct hit and the second arrow is the one that lingers as you churn and process the feedback, perhaps even in disagreement or justification of your performance, before figuring out just what to do with what has been said. This notion of feedback is far from a consideration of a gift.    

Organizations continue to encourage managers and colleagues to offer feedback to others. After all, feedback itself is a good thing – it can be a powerful approach to personal development. It can lay the foundation for trust, improves communication, provides clarity in your role, and can create a bond between two individuals.  And we know feedback is good for the engagement of our employees. A Gallup position paper, Re-engineering Performance Management, states that when managers provide consistent daily feedback compared to annual feedback, their employees are:

  • - 6.0 times more likely to strongly agree that they receive meaningful feedback
  • - 3.6 times more likely to strongly agree that they are motivated to do outstanding work
  • - 3.0 times more likely to be engaged at work


What’s more, only a third of people surveyed believe the feedback that they received was helpful. So, how can we deliver productive, developmental, and motivational feedback in a way that feels like a gift? 

What if organizations - our leaders or managers – encouraged us to ask for feedback instead of give feedback. Could the dynamic and emotions of feedback change?  Could it feel more helpful, inspiring, or developmental in nature? It seems that individuals who ask for feedback rather than simply being the receiver of feedback have more control. They can be specific about what feedback is important to them and how they want to receive it, ultimately creating parameters for the feedback request. It also signals receptivity to the feedback and reciprocity – that feedback can be a two-way street paved with trust, respect, and a sense of partnership. As a by-product, asking for feedback can reduce the stress and anxiety that is the prelude to unsolicited feedback and sets the table for a positive, enriching developmental dialogue. 

Yet, whoever initiates it, feedback is inevitable. So, how can we be gracious in receiving the gift of feedback?  Consider some of these suggestions: 

  • - Come into the interaction with openness and mindfulness
  • - In order to control your emotions, we must be aware of them – pay attention to how you are feeling
  • - Actively listen to understand, and suspend judgment
  • - Pause to summarize and reflect on what you have heard
  • - If needed, ask clarifying questions to help elucidate the feedback – but be careful that it doesn’t turn into a spirited debate
  • - A genuine “thank you” can show that you are approachable and coachable, and will help nourish the bond between the “giver” and the “receiver”
  • - Remember that feedback is just one opinion seen through the filter of that person.  Feedback always has the potential to reflect the talent and natural biases of the giver.
  • - Embrace a growth-mindset.  At the end of the day, you do get to decide what to do with the feedback.  Pay attention to your patterns of behaviors, search for ways to do things differently – you owe it to yourself to use the gift of feedback to develop into the best version of yourself.


Equally as important, how can we grow our skills and mindset to prepare ourselves to be the “giver” of the gift of feedback – rather than be seen as an archer with “double-arrows”? Here are some tips to keep in mind next time you are preparing to give feedback: 

  • - Know the person you are giving feedback to and deliver hand-tailored feedback
  • - Keep in mind generational differences – meaningful feedback or the appropriate frequency of feedback may be perceived differently by Millennials vs. other generations, for example
  • - Avoid unsolicited feedback, when possible.  Ideally, we initiate the feedback from others.  When that doesn’t occur, ask to give feedback and encourage the receiver to take some control over the dialogue 
  • - Be present with the person and pay close attention and give care to their emotions 
  • - Be specific and performance-oriented in your feedback and be prepared to share examples to give clarity to the feedback
  • - Give time for silence, introspection, and questions.  Many people need time to process feedback, especially when emotions are swirling about
  • - Encourage dialogue.  Feedback should feel like a mutually respectful exchange in the spirit of growth and development.  Make time to hear their perspective and ideas for improvement
  • - Show a genuineness in your desire to help the person develop and remember that feedback, done right, cultivates trust and a bond with the other person


Feedback, whether it is given to an employee, colleague, friend, or loved one, is a necessary part of personal development. It can be a gift – a gift that can set us on a new course or stretch our talents in ways we never thought possible.  But it takes time, patience, and a little practice whether you are the “giver” or “receiver” of the gift of feedback – and well worth it in the end. 

Sign up here to be a part of our Tribe!