Feedback Best Practices Worth Singing About

For many people, the word “feedback” elicits physical, mental, and emotional reactions that range from cringing, sweaty palms, ducking and covering, assuming they did something wrong, actively avoiding someone, and more (I didn’t make these up – these are all real responses that people have shared with me over the years).

Let’s face it – most people are highly unskilled at giving feedback. We’ve all lived a lifetime of parents, coaches, teachers, bosses, customers, colleagues, and partners giving us sub-optimal feedback (even if their intentions were good) that has led us to dread hearing the F-word.

But the funny thing about feedback is that with just a few tweaks to how we deliver it or hear it, we can learn, grow, build trust, and strengthen relationships.

But who can ever remember those little nuanced feedback best practices?

I recently wrote a five-part blog series connecting feedback best practices to some sure-to-get-stuck-in-your-head 80s songs, hoping that the feedback best practices will stick along with them.

Sara Shondrick and I spoke about these for the Mix Tape podcast series, and below is a synopsis of the whole playlist and the 10 feedback best practices that go with it. 

The Playlist

1. I’m Only Human – The Human League.

Whether you are giving or receiving feedback, remember that you’re only human. You will be uncomfortable – and that’s okay. What’s more, you can grow and develop. Practice giving, asking for, accepting, and using feedback and, over time, you will grow your feedback orientation. 

2. Don’t You Forget About Me – Simple Minds.

Okay, this song has nothing to do with the actual practice, but the practice is so important I don’t want you to forget about it. Always focus feedback on behavior, never on the person. We give feedback because we want to influence future behavior. It’s much easier to use feedback that focuses on behavior, rather than who someone is (including their abilities, personality, character, etc.). 

3. Straight Up – Paula Abdul.

Be specific and evidence-based in your feedback. Give the feedback straight up – be clear and direct. Don’t sugarcoat. And definitely no feedback sandwich

4. I Can’t Wait – Nu Shooz.

Give feedback as soon as possible after something happens. This ensures it’s fresh in your mind and fresh in the other person’s mind. It allows them to course correct and act on the feedback right away. It also shows that you care; waiting weeks or months to share feedback is pretty demotivating. 

5. Private Eyes – Hall & Oates.

But… wait until you can be in private! Never provide feedback in a public setting. Otherwise, the person you give the feedback to will be so self-conscious that they probably won’t even hear what you are saying. 

6. It’s a Mistake – Men at Work.

Texting feedback to someone? It’s a mistake, UNLESS it’s urgent and low stakes. Texting someone critical feedback on their performance? No way. Texting someone that they have spinach in their teeth when they are about to go meet with an important client? That’s okay. 

7. So Emotional – Whitney Houston.

When you receive feedback, you are hard-wired to have a fast, powerful emotional reaction. Our brains interpret negative feedback as a threat. If you get emotionally hijacked there is nothing wrong with you. But, you won’t really be able to think about the feedback in depth when you are having a powerful emotional reaction. Give yourself time and space to let your emotions subside, then engage more thoughtfully with the feedback, which gets to my next tip… 

8. Time is on My Side – Rolling Stones.

Remember that advice of counting to 10 when you are angry? That’s so your immediate emotional reaction can pass and cool cognition has a chance to catch up. The same is true when you receive feedback that elicits strong emotions. There is nothing wrong with saying, “Thank you for sharing this feedback. I need a little time to think about it. Can we reconnect later this week to talk about next steps?”

9. A Matter of Trust – Billy Joel.

Research has consistently shown that trust and credibility are two critical attributes of the feedback provider. If you trust the person who is giving you feedback and see them as credible (you think they know what they are talking about), you are significantly more likely to hear and accept the feedback. As a feedback provider, remember that every feedback exchange happens in the context of your existing relationship. These interactions can also be a way to build trust and strengthen your relationship when you give high-quality feedback in a caring way.

10. Enjoy the Silence – Depeche Mode

Many people talk too much when they are nervous or uncomfortable. The problem is, you dominate the conversation and don’t give the other person time to respond or ask a question. Learn to get comfortable pausing and having a few seconds of silence after you share your feedback. You’re not being awkward, you’re giving the other person time and space to process and weigh in.
Check out our Mix Tape podcast to hear more! And if you’re REALLY hungry for more on feedback, check out my latest book, Feedback Fundamentals and Evidence-Based Best Practices.

About the author

Riordan, PhD

Brodie Riordan is an industrial/organizational psychologist, executive coach, feedback enthusiast, author, and professor. Her career has included global leadership roles in talent and learning & development at McKinsey & Company, Corporate Executive Board (CEB), and Procter & Gamble. She manages her own practice, Ocular, and also coaches with The Boda Group. Brodie teaches part-time in the Georgetown University HR Masters program. Her latest book, Feedback Fundamentals and Evidence-Based Best Practices, focuses on sharing academic research on giving, receiving, and using feedback in a way that feels practical and approachable.
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