OK, the topic of feedback isn’t stand-up comedy funny. It’s funny as in odd because there are so many contradictions surrounding it.

What the Experts Say About Feedback

Run a search on “Feedback” at Harvard Business Review (subscription), and you’ll encounter these (and many other) article titles by some thoughtful experts:

  • Stop Softening Tough Feedback
  • Good Feedback is a Two Way Conversation
  • Are You Stuck in the Anxiety-Distraction Feedback Loop?
  • When Asking for Advice is More Effective Than Asking for Feedback
  • Instant Feedback Hurts Our Performance
  • The Feedback Fallacy
  • 13 Ways We Justify, Rationalize, or Ignore Negative Feedback
  • Negative Feedback Rarely Leads to Improvement
  • When Giving Critical Feedback, Focus on Your Nonverbal Cues
  • Using Harsh Feedback to Fuel Your Career

It’s as clear as a foggy day. I’m not sure if it’s good, bad, distracting, something to ignore, or something to seek out. Should it be soft or harsh?

About the only absolute you can bank on from all of those articles is the guidance: Good Feedback is a Two Way Conversation.

Heck yes.

Don’t Forget the Brain Researchers

Let’s not leave out our friends in the world of neuroscience. Thanks to the wonders of something called functional magnetic resonance imaging, researchers can watch our brains light up when exposed to different stimuli.

It turns out even the idea of receiving or giving feedback lights up the areas of our brain associated with threats.

Consider if the boss says to you at 9:00 a.m, “Stop by my office at 4:00 p.m. today; I’ve got some feedback for you.

Well, that day is shot.

The Feedback that Changed My View on Feedback

In full transparency, I once held the crown for having been the worst deliverer of feedback in the history of the world. I was a new manager.

Those poor people!

Simple discussions turned into long, existential therapy sessions.

Fortunately, a sponsor (beyond mentor) gave me some great feedback. “Art, you’re terrible at giving feedback.”

I bottomed out on feedback right there. And over decades of practice, receiving and delivering feedback of all types became a superpower.

There are a few secrets. I’m sharing them here.

Five Practices to Get the “Funny” Out of Feedback:

1. Be the Example

First, you need to be flipping fantastic at receiving feedback. If you’re not modeling this behavior, don’t expect anyone else to care. The first time you shoot a messenger is the last time you’ll receive feedback.

2. Address the Environment

It’s your job to create awareness of the absolute necessity of feedback in striving for growth and high performance. Talk about it with your team members. Agree on a definition. Agree on ground rules and then bake the essential need to share and receive quality feedback into your group’s values.

3. Teach People How to Receive/Give Quality Feedback

Almost no one knows how to give constructive or positive feedback. Nor do they understand how to receive it. They need a structure, tools, and ample practice to generate self-confidence with this tool. Teach them. Invest in training. Evaluate their progress on developing as a giver or receiver of feedback. (Yeah, I just suggested you give them feedback on their feedback skills. I told you this topic was funny.)

4. Teach the Essential Need for Empathy in Feedback Discussions

One of my favorite examples from a colleague working on getting better at receiving feedback is: “I imagine this must be uncomfortable for you to share with me. Thank you for raising it. Now, help me understand what you see so I can figure out how to get better.”

Inherent in mining value from feedback is the receiver’s belief that the giver cares about their safety and security. You cannot project this unless you approach the discussion with deep, visible regard for them.
No gimmick, formula, or tactic you might learn can overcome a lack of empathy when it comes to feedback.

5. Find a Style that Works in Your Culture

Soft, harsh, robust, or radical. I don’t care, and it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters about how people engage with feedback is that it fits the organization’s culture. If the feedback style is clearly defined, emphasized in your values, and modeled by your behaviors, and if it works, run with it. You should measure to see if it works. (Drop me a note if you want my ten-question feedback culture survey.)

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Quality feedback, carefully delivered, is a powerful performance enhancer. The opposite holds if it’s not carefully developed, delivered, and discussed. Poor quality feedback, no feedback, or destructive feedback will send people somewhere else to work. See, I told you feedback is funny. Just not in that “Ha Ha” kind of way.

Art's Signature



Interested in developing your skills and leveraging the performance-enhancing power of feedback? Check out our Feedback Boot Camp. It’s four hours of goodness via approaches, practice, and discussion to help you get the “funny” out of feedback and harness this powerful tool. And the value is ridiculous. $97. Visit the program page to check on an upcoming date and register. 

Check out the library of articles on developing as a giver and receiver of feedback at my Management Excellence blog.