8.3 Giving and Receiving Feedback

Receiving Formal Feedback

Silhouette of a man yelling into a microphone

Many are not born with a love of receiving feedback. However, you can learn to love receiving feedback. Receiving feedback is a wonderful way to truly learn about yourself and grow into the person you want to be. We tend to get more feedback in the workplace (or school) than in other areas of our lives because feedback is built into the process. We may have a probationary period or perhaps we have a yearly review. These sorts of processes are intended as a way to provide feedback to employees so they can keep doing what they are doing well and improve where needed.

Some of us do not take feedback well. We may hear three things we do well and one thing we need to improve and then we obsessively focus on the one thing we need to improve for weeks after. This is unfortunate because feedback is a great strategy to help us grow and improve. If we can change our perspective and embrace feedback, we are likely to progress in our careers and improve our skills.

Joe Hrisch helps us all see The Joy of Getting Feedback in his Ted Talk below.

Some guidelines for learning to love receiving feedback.

Be Open and Accept Someone Else’s Perspective – In order for someone’s feedback to help you grow and develop personally and professionally, you must be open to hearing and accepting what they have to say.

Embrace the Discomfort – Receiving feedback can be uncomfortable, accepting that, and embracing it allows you to get the most of out of the feedback someone gives you.

Ask for More Information, Examples, and Clarifying Questions – Don’t hesitate to dig into the feedback.  Ask questions to make sure that you understand the feedback, that you get really clear about how you can improve, and seek out examples of where you do great and where you have room for improvement.

Remember – Feedback Doesn’t Mean You Suck – Everyone has something to improve upon.  Having someone in your life willing to give you feedback and help you grow is a privilege. Embrace the feedback, don’t take it personally or to heart as a reflection that you are terrible at your job or a terrible person. Feedback is simply an opportunity to grow and improve who you are.

Giving Formal Feedback to Yourself: Self-evaluation

Don’t forget, you can also give yourself feedback. Self-evaluation can be difficult, because people may think their performance was effective and therefore doesn’t need critique, or they may become their own worst critic, which can negatively affect self-efficacy. The key to effective self-evaluation is to identify strengths and weaknesses, to evaluate yourself within the context of the task, and to set concrete goals for future performance. What follows are guidelines that I give my students for self-evaluation of their speeches.

Identify strengths and weaknesses. We have a tendency to be our own worst critics, so steer away from nit-picking or over focusing on one aspect of your performance that really annoys you and sticks out to you. It is likely that the focus of your criticism wasn’t nearly as noticeable or even noticed at all by others. For example, I once had a student write a self-critique of which about 90 percent focused on how his face looked red. Although that was really salient for him when he watched his video, I don’t think it was a big deal for the audience members.

Evaluate yourself within a context. If you are asked to speak about your personal life in a creative way, don’t spend the majority of your self-evaluation critiquing your use of gestures. People have a tendency to overanalyze certain aspects of their performance, which usually only accounts for a portion of their overall effectiveness or productiveness, and underanalyze other elements that have significant importance.

Set goals for next time. Goal setting is important because most of us need a concrete benchmark against which to evaluate our progress. Once goals are achieved, they can be “checked off” and added to our ongoing skill set, which can enhance confidence and lead to the achievement of more advanced goals.

Revisit goals and assess progress at regular intervals. We will not always achieve the goals we set, so it is important to revisit the goals periodically to assess our progress. If you did not meet a goal, figure out why and create an action plan to try again. If you did achieve a goal, try to build on that confidence to meet future goals.

Giving Formal Feedback to Others

A person holding a pen talking to another person

It is likely that you will be asked at some point to give feedback to another person in a personal, academic, professional, or civic context. As schools, companies, and organizations have moved toward more team-based environments over the past twenty years, peer evaluations are now commonly used to help assess performance. I, for example, am evaluated every year by my students, and my two faculty directors. I also evaluate my faculty and teaching assistants and peers yearly. Since it’s important for us to know how to give competent and relevant feedback, and since the feedback can be useful for the self-improvement of the receiver, many students are asked to complete peer evaluations verbally and/or in writing for classmates after they deliver a speech or work on a project together. The key to good feedback is to offer constructive criticism, which consists of comments that are specific and descriptive enough for the receiver to apply them for the purpose of self-improvement. The following are guidelines for giving feedback.

  1. Be specific and descriptive. I often see a lack of specific comments when it comes to feedback on speech delivery. Students write things like “Eye contact” on a peer comment sheet, but neither the student nor I know what to do with the comment. While a comment like “Good eye contact” or “Not enough eye contact” is more specific, it’s not descriptive enough to make it useful. What would be best is “Good consistent eye contact with the audience during your introduction. Eye contact with the audience diminished when you seemed less confident in what you were presenting in the last 3 slides of your powerpoint.”
  2. Be positive. If you are delivering your feedback in writing, pretend that you are speaking directly to the person and write it the same way. Comments like “Stop fidgeting” or “Get more sources” wouldn’t likely come out during verbal feedback, because we know they sound too harsh. The same tone, however, can be communicated through written feedback. Instead, make comments that are framed in such a way as to avoid defensiveness or hurt feelings.
  3. Be constructive. Although we want to be positive in our feedback, comments like “Good job” aren’t constructive, because a communicator can’t actually take that comment and do something with it. A comment like “You were able to explain our company’s new marketing strategy in a way that even I, as an engineer, could make sense of. The part about our new crisis communication plan wasn’t as clear. Perhaps you could break it down the same way you did the marketing strategy to make it clearer for people like me who are outside the public relations department.” This statement is positively framed, specific, and constructive because the speaker can continue to build on the positively reviewed skill by applying it to another part of the speech that was identified as a place for improvement.
  4. Be realistic. Comments like “Don’t be nervous” aren’t constructive or realistic. Instead, you could say, “I know the first speech is tough, but remember that we’re all in the same situation and we’re all here to learn. I tried the breathing exercises discussed in the book and they helped calm my nerves. Maybe they’ll work for you, too?” I’ve also had students make comments like “Your accent made it difficult for me to understand you,” which could be true but may signal a need for more listening effort since we all technically have accents, and changing them, if possible at all, would take considerable time and effort.
  5. Be relevant. Feedback should be relevant to the assignment, task, and/or context. I’ve had students give feedback like “Rad nail polish” and “Nice smile,” which although meant as compliments are not relevant in formal feedback unless you’re a fashion consultant or a dentist.


Material in this chapter has been adapted from “Communication in the Real World” is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Material in this chapter has been adapted from “Communication in the Real World” is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0


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Exploring Relationship Dynamics Copyright © 2021 by Maricopa Community College District is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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