Getting Comfortable with Feedback

Posted By: Alissa Harrington Articles , Industry Trends ,
Offering feedback to a colleague can be tricky. So tricky, that a lot of us skip it all together!

Perhaps we see someone else’s mistake or missed task, but we say nothing, fearing that bringing it up may damage the relationship. Maybe something a coworker said rubbed us the wrong way, but we think bringing it up may make it even more uncomfortable. We might talk to a supervisor, another colleague, or even HR in the hopes that someone else may be able to bring it to their attention.

When this happens, we indirectly damage the relationship, possibly far worse than if we brought it to the person first-hand. I will go out on a limb to assume that most of us want to work in a place where we can openly discuss problems with each other in a way that does not illicit a defensive response from each other.

I can also fairly safely assume that we have had those moments where giving a colleague feedback has gone poorly and caused us to never want to step into those waters again. I have been there myself, and it is not a fun place to be. However, I have also been in a workplace where the culture was as such where no one talked to each other peer-to-peer, and instead to others in hopes the repeated problems they were having with a coworker would somehow miraculously go away. The environment was toxic to say the least. There was a giant lack of trust, and the term “back-stabbing” was used on a regular basis.

I have a super-secret insider HR tip to share with you…

Creating a culture where peer-to-peer feedback is smooth and successful starts with your willingness to be open to other’s feedback.

Wait, what? In order to give good feedback, I have to take feedback well? Yes, you read that right. Here is why: You cannot change someone else’s behavior. What you can do is change your own. A really great way to influence another person’s behavior is to model the behavior yourself.

When receiving feedback, show the person you appreciate their input. Thank them for their suggestions and ask clarifying questions. You may even ask them for additional training or support. Be a willing audience. Do not get defensive or offer excuses – that shuts down learning.

Perhaps there are plenty of reasons why an error occurred (you received incorrect information, your computer shut down, a resident called in the middle of sending an email), but all that information is just not necessary. We all make mistakes from time to time. Creating a culture where feedback is welcomed starts with accepting it, thanking the person, learning from it, and moving on.

One of the biggest ways we can create a culture where feedback is welcomed is by building trust. Building trust does not happen in a single instance. It is hard to know when it is present, but we all can easily distinguish when it is absent.

Trust is established by doing what you say you are going to do, following up, and being consistent. Trust is broken when we fail to follow-up on tasks we promised someone we would take care of. When we hear someone gossiping about another person’s performance or even things we may know about an individual outside of work, it makes us question if they may be talking about us in the same way.

As I am sure we can all relate to, trust is harder to repair once broken than to build when we are getting to know someone. Along with follow-through, trust is built by giving credit where credit is due. Acknowledge the hard work of others. If someone gives you credit for something when another colleague helped or did it themselves, point that out.

On that note, remember that feedback is not always negative! Let someone know when they rocked an interaction with a resident or client, and most importantly, let them know why.

So, let’s say you have mastered the art of receiving feedback and now you want to offer some. Great!

Here are a few tips:


  • Feedback is best received when it is timely. Don’t wait a month after an email went out with a typo to let someone know, so they have the opportunity to correct it if needed.
  • Respect the receiving individual’s time. Do not interrupt them when they are in the middle of a detailed report, for example. Ask them if they have a moment.

Be Specific:

  • General statements like, “you rock!”, “you’re the best” are fine, but lack meaning. Tell the person exactly what they did or didn’t do that was positive or could use improvement.
  • Be compassionately honest. Beating around the bush, vague or passive aggressive will do more harm then good. Be clear on what you observed.
  • Focus on observable behavior, not personality traits or generalizations “You are so nice. Everyone loves you!” This is a personal statement and doesn’t do a whole lot to help people grow as professionals. In addition, this could lead to interpretations that may not come off as welcomed. Again, offer specific examples.

DO ask questions, DO NOT make assumptions:

  • State the observation or what happened, and if applicable, how it impacted you. Then ask how their perspective.
  • Avoid statements that suggest what the other person is thinking or feeling.

Supervisors – You may be wondering how peer-to-peer feedback is different from offering feedback to a subordinate... Well, it’s not really that different. The slight difference is that as a supervisor, after you have given feedback and still see a pattern of behavior, you may need to start documenting and holding that associate accountable. The HR team is happy to help in these instances!

Here are some additional resources:

Alissa Harrington, SPHR is a leader in human resources and organizational change with Thrive Communities as their Director of Human Resources.. She is passionate about fostering satisfying, inclusive, and productive workplaces. She does this through conversation, asking questions, engaging in conflict in an authentic and compassionate way, and by creating welcoming environments that stimulate learning.