Feedback is a gift, like a toaster on your birthday

30 January 2019

It has been said that feedback should be treated as a gift. Sometimes however, this might be a gift like an iron or a toaster on our birthday.  Now a toaster may be a wonderful gift to some people in some circumstances, yet not when you were hoping for something more personal.

Feedback however is useful.  Research shows that one of the best ways to help employees thrive is to give them feedback (Gallup, 2015).   This same research indicated that 67% of employees whose managers focused on their strengths were fully engaged in their work, as compared to only 31% of employees whose managers focused on their weaknesses.  Those with children can perhaps relate to this.  We end up with better results when we give our children positive feedback when they do the right thing rather than focussing on negative behaviour. 

Receiving feedback is complicated.  A colleague of mine recently asked the Agile Community for a review of a presentation he was due to give.  He indicated that he found himself becoming defensive, even though he had specifically asked for the feedback.

Giving and receiving feedback is hard. The key however is intent. There may be two motivations as to why someone will provide re-directive or negative feedback.  The first is that the person really cares about us and wants to help us become a better person.  In this case, we find that the feedback hurts because we care about that person’s opinion and want to be viewed favourably in their eyes. The challenge is to channel that respect, take a deep breath and really absorb the information to become the person we want to be.

In the second case, the re-directive or negative feedback isn’t really given as a gift but has other motivations.  I see this particularly where feedback is anonymous.  Each time we look to provide feedback we need to review our own motivations to ensure they provide value to the person receiving the feedback.  If our motivations are to provide value, then the receiver of the feedback will be more inclined and able, to view the feedback as a genuine gift.

When providing feedback, ask yourself is this a gift that the receiver will genuinely appreciate, even if not immediately?  Is this a gift that is directed towards the right person?  Is the gift a kind, loving and thoughtful gesture of respect?  If this is true, then it is easy to use the constructive model below as we can be confident that the feedback we give is a genuine ‘gift’.

When giving feedback we should use the following constructive model (Scott, 2002).

In this model we:

  • Start with a positive intent, demonstrate this and ask if we may give feedback.
  • Describe specifically what behaviour was observed on a particular occasion.  Just one.
  • State the impact of the behaviour.
  • Provide time and opportunity for the person to respond.  Listen to the response.
  • Focus on the future.

I have had many opportunities to use this model and I have had great success. 

My top tips for the giver of feedback:

  1. Always ask yourself ‘what value will the person receiving this gift receive’?
  2. Always ask yourself ‘is this feedback directed at the appropriate source’?
  3. Always ask permission to give the feedback and respect the answer.  ‘not yet’, ‘not now’ or ‘no’ are perfectly acceptable responses.
  4. Give positive feedback publicly and often.
  5. Always ensure the feedback is genuine.
  6. Use a constructive model for giving feedback.
  7. Thank the person for the opportunity to provide the feedback.

As a recipient of feedback, it may be important to separate your view of the provider of the feedback from the feedback itself.  Our first reaction to feedback is often the ‘fight or flight’ response.  We may look to defend our actions or simply retreat away and ignore the feedback.  It is important to recognise these impulses, review the information and look for the positive steps we can take to act on the feedback.

My top tips for the receiver of feedback:

  1. It is okay to say ‘not yet’, ‘not now’ or ‘no’ when you are asked if feedback can be given.  If ‘not yet’, ‘not now’, look to provide a timeframe when you are prepared to receive the feedback.
  2. Always ask yourself ‘what useful information can I obtain from this feedback’?
  3. Separate the pain of the feedback from the valuable information.
  4. Don’t look for justifications for the behaviour.  Leave this dialogue to be internal.
  5. Say ‘thank you for the feedback’, even if you don’t mean it, yet.



Gallup. (2015, April 8). Employees Want a Lot More From Their Managers. Retrieved from Gallup:

Scott, S. (2002). Fierce Conversations.


Post by Julie Wilson