The subtle art of giving and receiving feedback

Tay Bencardino
5 min readAug 30, 2023

Some time ago, I wrote about the importance of receiving feedback during the job search process. But that was only sometimes possible because we need to know how busy a person on the other side is with hundreds of other applications.

Someone replied that they would always like to receive feedback because they will only know how to improve in the following approach. Having read “Thanks for the Feedback” by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, coupled with attending a feedback workshop, I got some insights to share.

Today, I want to discuss the sensitive subject of giving and receiving feedback. Shall we explore this topic together?

Photo by Etienne Boulanger on Unsplash

Receiving Feedback

First, what’s your intention here? Are you genuinely open to constructive feedback or merely seeking affirmation that whatever you’re doing is already spot on?

If you’re looking for someone to tell you how good and excellent you are, go to the mirror or ask someone who never finds imperfection in you.
But if you’re genuinely here to hone a specific skill or trait, let’s proceed. Remember, we are all human beings here, and we have weaknesses. We were born full of them. Life grants us the opportunity to learn from our mistakes. Best of all, we have a lifetime to continually better ourselves and hopefully leave the world a bit brighter for those who follow.

So, think about the present: What can you refine about yourself so that in, say, five years, you’re an even better version of yourself?
Start by pinpointing areas of potential improvement. Within a professional setting, you could approach a colleague or someone more experienced and seek feedback. Pose questions like,

“How am I performing, and where might I enhance my skills?”

It’s vital to realise that the goal isn’t to criticise anyone’s efforts. Instead, it’s about pinpointing how one might enhance their contributions in specific areas. How can we boost our productivity? How can we offer more value to our colleagues and organisation? Embracing feedback requires an open heart.

You’re not obligated to accept every piece of feedback. If you find yourself disagreeing with some comments, why not delve deeper into why the feedback was given? Always express gratitude for the feedback and strive to comprehend the other person’s perspective and explore solutions.
Another important thing when we receive feedback is to keep the subject the same.

Another frequent pitfall when receiving feedback is getting sidetracked. Especially when feedback comes from someone we have personal ties with. Should they point out something you’d rather not hear, avoid retorts like:

“Yeah, but you’re guilty of the same!” or
“Well, what about when you did that the other day?”

Stay on topic. Address one issue at a time.

Giving Feedback

Before giving feedback, is the other person prepared to receive it? Ask!

“May I offer some feedback, or would you prefer we discuss this later?”

There might be days when someone isn’t in the best state to receive feedback, no matter how well-intentioned. Always offer feedback in the manner you’d want to receive it. The ultimate goal is to facilitate either personal or professional growth.

A technique I’ve found particularly effective when offering feedback is the “SBI — Situation, Behaviour, Impact” model. It involves detailing the specific situation, pinpointing the observed behaviour, and explaining its impact on the individual, the team, or the broader organisation.

For instance, at my workplace, someone initiated a public speaking group. Here, participants give presentations, after which they receive feedback from the audience. While the main focus is on refining presentation skills, this group also fosters skills in both giving and receiving feedback.

Image made by me using Canva library

Example of what we might say to the person who created this group using the SBI method:

Situation: Since you started the public speaking skills group, we have had the opportunity to participate in several presentations and feedback sessions.

Behaviour: You organised and facilitated each session in a well-structured way, providing clear guidance on the format of presentations and guidelines for feedback.

Impact: This has created an enabling environment to hone our presentation and feedback skills and foster a sense of community and collaboration among group members.

This feedback highlights the positive aspects of the work of the person who created the group and demonstrates how their actions have positively impacted the group’s dynamics.

Here is a more detailed breakdown of it:

Situation: This initial step in feedback sets the context. This example emphasises the foundation of the public speaking group and the resultant presentations and feedback sessions. It’s essential as it provides a clear backdrop against which the feedback is set.

Behaviour: This section underscores the individual’s actions, shedding light on their organisational skills and their structured approach to the sessions. Mentioning their provision of clear guidelines illustrates their meticulousness and dedication to ensuring clarity for all participants.

Impact: This is where the positive consequences of the individual’s actions are highlighted. By fostering an environment that enhances presentation and feedback skills, they’ve contributed to the members' professional growth and cultivated a supportive and collaborative community. The emphasis here showcases the ripple effect of their leadership and its broader benefits.

Overall, this feedback could be evaluated as well-structured and specific, providing a clear picture of the person’s contributions to the group. It recognises not only the person’s direct actions but also the positive impact those actions have on the development and cohesion of the group.

Image made by me using Canva library

In essence, feedback is a tool for growth. When someone takes the time to offer you insights, show gratitude. After all, they could have simply remained silent, leaving you in the dark about your performance.

Be grateful whenever you receive feedback.
Be kind whenever you give feedback.