Giving and Receiving Feedback

Growth and learning requires giving and receiving feedback. During your course of study, you will give feedback to classmates in group projects and receive feedback from your classmates and instructors.  What strategies can help you to give effective feedback? How do you best learn from the feedback given to you?


Icon denoting feedback.
Feedback by Tezar Tantular from Noun Project

Effective feedback must include:

  • what is being done correctly and well;
  • how it can be improved;
  • what the next steps might be.

Receiving Feedback

Sometimes it can be hard to receive and learn from feedback that you are given. If another person offers you feedback, it may sound like criticism. It may be that they intend to be positive but they may not know how to say something positively. It may also be that their self-esteem is low and they are being defensive or aggressive toward you. Most importantly, you may become defensive or aggressive if you see their feedback as critical or negative, no matter what was meant.

Attempt to suspend your reaction until you understand the information that is being given. Paraphrase what you hear. If it seems unclear, ask for clarification. Having it presented in other words or from another point of view may increase your understanding about what is being said.

Explore and discover the reasons for the feedback:

  • Is a change by you indicated?
  • Is it an evaluation of the past or an indication for the future?

Think about and cope with your possible defensive reaction:

  • Do you see wants as demands?
  • Do you feel guilty or obligated?
  • Are you hearing more than is being said?

Ideally, listen to the comments and find their positive side. Then, explain your position or point of view without feeling that you must justify yourself. Determine the importance of the message to you and remember that you may choose not to make changes based on the feedback.

Any discussion will benefit from more information. You can wall yourself off from information and change by being defensive. However, you can open new lines of communication by being open.


Giving Effective Feedback

It is easy to criticize and to think that we are helping a person deal with a situation. To give the right commentary, at the right time, to the right person, with the right reasons, in the right way, and to the right degree is very difficult.

You first need agreement to interact. If the other person is not ready to hear your comments, you set up a negative interaction that will cause them to block out you and your feedback. If you do not have permission to comment, you may be seen as aggressive and the other person may respond by being aggressive or defensive toward you.

Ask if the other person wants your feedback. If they say no, then you will have to discuss or problem-solve that before you say anything more, or say nothing at all.

Search out all the facts you can prior to giving your feedback. Ask the people involved about what they feel is happening and how they see the situation. This may solve or help to solve the problem.

Time the discussion so that you are all reasonably unstressed. Leave time so there is another chance to talk before you part ways. This will help to avoid or clear misunderstanding or confusion.

Be positive by beginning and ending your feedback with comments about what is working, correct, or right about the situation. No matter how bad you perceive things to be, there will be good points to comment on.

Avoid using absolutes or negative words, like “always,” “never,” or “don’t.” Most situations tend to be many shades of grey rather than black and white. The ways in which people behave are interpreted by each person in the light of their own experiences and perceptions. Use alternative positive words and phrases. Avoid comparing the person involved to other people in other situations — the where, when, what, and who of each situation are different. Comparisons tend to produce resentment and frustration.

Be specific in your description of the problem and avoid vague or misleading statements. If attitude seems to be a problem, show specific instances and then take one point at a time so as not to overload or overwhelm the other person. Make sure that it is something that can be changed.

Offer suggestions for how someone might improve or change and explain how those changes would affect you or the other people involved. Also, be prepared for no change — just as you can choose not to act on someone’s feedback, others can make the same choice when presented with your feedback.

Feedback can be positive if it:

  • is offered at the right time and place;
  • is offered with comments on good points as well as possible changes;
  • is connected to facts and not rumours;
  • is directed to behaviour that can be changed;
  • is specific and one point at a time;
  • gives information and possible solutions to change the situation.

You will not use all of these elements in all circumstances, but all of them can be used in some situations.

This work, “Giving and Receiving Feedback,” is a derivative of “Give and Receive Feedback” by Alice Macpherson and Christina Page , used under CC BY 4.0. “Give and Receive Feedback” is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by Assiniboine Community College.


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