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Feedback 101 – What Is It?

| June 16, 2015

by Jim Bruce

“We all live in the world with only the vaguest notion of our impact, and sometimes that matters.  Clearly, when we’re effective or helpful, we ought to know it.  And when our actions are working against us or others, we ought to know that too.  Given how most of us put our heads down and barrel through, sometimes it falls on another person to let us in on what everyone else knows and we probably don’t.  So, feedback is a good thing, when it is done right.  …  Make it specific, behavioral, non-judgmental, and about things people can control.”                                                                       Interaction Associates


The term “feedback” has been known since at least the eighteenth century in economic theory.  Since then it’s been used in psychology, epidemiology, military strategy, environmental studies, engineering, economics, etc.  And, the concept shows up somewhat routinely in our everyday life.  Think, for example of the speed limit signs that have a radar-enabled display captioned “Your Speed.”  When employed near schools in Garden Grove, California, drivers slowed an average of 14 percent.  Or, think of GlowCaps, which remind individuals to take their medications on time.  These are just two of many examples of how feedback can change human behavior.

Feedback in the workplace fundamentally means sharing information between co-workers about the impact that their behavior is having on the team’s results, its processes, and/or its relationships.  This information can be positive in the form of affirmation of specific good work the co-worker is doing.  Or, it can be corrective guiding the co-worker to improve specific aspects of his or her work.

We’ve discussed feedback, and feedback related topics, in the Tuesday Reading essays a number of times over the past years.  [See Reference 1 below.]  In today’s essay we begin a series on feedback to cover the topic more comprehensively in one set of readings.  Today’s reading lays the foundation.  In the coming weeks we’ll touch on giving and receiving feedback, on what to do when you think the feedback you received is not fair, on giving your manager feedback, and other topics as well.

Too often as leaders we neglect to give either affirmative or corrective feedback.  As to affirming others for their work, we neglect even the simple “Thank you” for good work delivered on schedule, thinking that the individual knows that we appreciate the work, or that we don’t want to clutter the individual’s inbox, etc.  But, ignoring the small things eventually leads to the practice of never saying “Thank you.”  And, then your workplace becomes a “Praise-Free Zone.”  I’ve been there.  When that happens, few people feel appreciated, engagement goes down, and more individuals are dissatisfied with their job.  Not the most encouraging place to work.

When it comes to providing corrective feedback, all too many of us run for cover.  We fear that we won’t do it right, that it will be too superficial because we’re not good at observing and noting the details, that it will turn into a confrontation, that the individual will become angry or hurt, or retaliate.  After all, we argue to ourselves, maybe the situation will self-correct and we won’t have to do anything.  Unfortunately, such magical transformations rarely occur.

When you think about feedback you need to think about giving and receiving both affirming and correcting feedback.  As you read this, your thoughts probably go immediately to the manager-team relationship and your responsibility to give feedback to your team’s members.  But, the opportunity, and in many instances the responsibility, is much larger than that.  Opportunities abound all around us to provide meaningful feedback in all of our relationships at work and into every aspect of our life.

In next week’s Tuesday Reading we’ll introduce a straightforward process that can be used in giving feedback:

•   Identify the specific activity/behavior, the individual to whom the feedback will be delivered, and the time and place for the conversation
•   At the meeting describe the specific activities/behaviors you have observed
•   Talk about their impact on you, and others
•   Discuss actions you ask be undertaken, and
•   Check for understanding and agreement. 

We’ll go into greater detail there and provide examples that will help you as you begin to explore giving more feedback.

I hope you have a great week.  In your time for reflection this week, you may wish to work on thinking about those around you where a feedback conversation would be appropriate. 

.  .  .  .  .  jim



1  MOR Insight, Feedback Collection.  
2  Interaction Associates, Workplace Feedback.  
3  Thomas Goetz, Harnessing the Power of Feedback Loops, Wired, June 9, 2011.  
4  Ruth Hill, The Situation – Behavior – Impact Feedback Tool from MindTools.
MOR Paper, Feedback is a Gift