The Guide to Feedback

BU Logo
BetterUp Studios
Read

10 min

Two people shaking hands on a basketball court

What is feedback?

Feedback is another person’s honest perception of our work and our actions - both positive and negative. We all need quality feedback at every stage of our career in order to understand the effects that our behaviors have on those around us. Constructive feedback allows us to adjust our actions for maximum effectiveness, and as a leader and colleague, giving feedback drives progress and development. But how do we get and give the kind of feedback that helps us grow? Learn to provide and receive feedback that’s actionable, timely, and motivating.

Why does it matter (according to research)?

  • Enhances performance. Providing feedback increases performance outcome measures by an average of 27% when compared to employees who report not consistently receiving feedback (Kluger & DeNisi, 1996).
  • Builds leadership. Leaders deal with highly challenging environments more effectively when given frequent feedback (DeRue & Wellman, 2009).
  • Encourages creativity. Frequent positive feedback is associated with increased creativity among employees (Zhou & Shalley, 2003).

What are some beliefs associated with strong feedback practices?

  • It’s important to know how I am received, even if I don’t love the answer.
  • Project outcomes are better when everyone weighs in.
  • Feedback helps me grow.

What are some beliefs associated with poor feedback practices?

  • Everyone’s a critic, and I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life.
  • No news is good news, amirite?
  • You can’t handle the truth (because it always hurts).

How can I work to maximize the power of feedback?

  • Make it specific, task-focused, and future-oriented. When we’re disappointed, we are tempted to blow off steam by expressing emphatic evaluations, but they leave people feeling unsure as to how to make things right. For example:

    • An example of bad feedback: “This deck stinks.”
    • Even worse - “You stink at making decks.”
    • Better. “This deck would benefit from thorough proofreading, a more compelling opening, more energetic visuals, and the marketing plan section needs to be clearer.”
  • Don’t forget the positive. We tend to focus on what people are doing wrong, but making sure people are also aware of what they are doing well is motivating. It also positively reinforces the behavior, making it more likely the recipient will keep doing it again and again.

  • Little & often > major & rare. Don’t rely on yearly performance reviews to do the heavy lifting. Giving one or two pieces of both positive and negative feedback a few times a month makes coworkers feel noticed, and it also keeps little things from becoming big surprises.

quote image
Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.
- Frank A. Clark
BetterUp Studios
BetterUp Studios creates and curates research-backed content, activities, and tools to help people everywhere pursue their lives with greater clarity, purpose, and passion.

Recommended Resources

Card image cap

Key Takeaways: Develop Your People

5 min

Card image cap

Mentoring Exercise

Use this BetterUp exercise to enable your employees to overcome exclusion in the workplace, whether they are experiencing it or encounter it in their peers.

5 min