How to Master the Delicacy of Giving Feedback

The art of being able to give effective feedback is critical in all organisations whether large or small. It is a delicate job; the flow and course of a conversation can shift dramatically with the energy changes between the people involved so it is key to learn how to keep it on safe ground.
People receiving feedback can respond differently depending on many factors; what their relationship is with the person giving the feedback; whether they trust that person has their best interests at heart; how strong their emotional resilience is at the time; what is the significance of the situation and importantly how the message is being delivered to them. Don’t underestimate the difficulty for the person giving the feedback either, they can also feel very uncomfortable.

Types of Feedback
Feedback as we have all experienced can fall into several camps: constructive feedback, praise or criticism. Constructive feedback is ideal as it focuses on an issue, is information specific, based on observations and gives the wider context for the need to change.
Praise and criticism are generally vague, focused on the person and based on opinions and feelings and have a lack of evidence.

Feedback what’s the intention?
Feedback is about improving performance, so it’s important to link all feedback into the bigger picture of the where and why you would like to see performance improved and what the positive consequence of that would be for the individual, the people they work with and the organisation. In other words you want to appeal to their intrinsic motivation to change by painting a picture of the benefits and the wider context. It is always helpful to focus on potential improvements as opposed to dwelling on past errors. During the process you also want them to feel encouraged and supported without leading them into a place of defensiveness, which destroys the flow of the conversation.
A workplace study* discovered after monitoring peoples moods several times a day that employees react to a negative interaction with their boss six times more strongly than they react to a positive one. Whilst essential, the study proposes that negative feedback can have significant adverse effects on an employee well being.

Be an ally not an adversary
Author Liane Davey * says that in executive teams the anxiety and discomfort of delivering feedback can make it unintentionally come through as antagonistic rather than supportive. This was supported by a 2014 study citing 43% of managers think the process is a “stressful and difficult experience” She says the secret is to make sure the message feels like it is coming from an ally not an adversary. To decrease anxiety feel like you are invested in your colleagues’ success; when this occurs the anxiety will naturally decrease. Don’t start giving feedback till you can honestly give it as an ally.

Adapt your style to the person you are giving feedback to
Experienced facilitators * understand that the key to success is to understand the recipients style and adapt their own style of giving feedback and the message to suit them; acknowledging that reactions to feedback will be based on different personalities and on the nature of the feedback itself. ‘If the person is factual, analytical, thinker, they emphasize the data. If the employee is emotionally sensitive or neurotic, they establish rapport, make them feel at ease ahead of the session, and start and end the discussion on a positive note’.

Use The Safe Dialogue Model *
In giving feedback or in a challenging conversation people can play in three different areas. Firstly there is the SAFE zone where there is a healthy dialogue occurring between people and this is the ideal place to be. If people step outside of this into fear they move into either what’s called Silence or Violence as a form of defensiveness.
In SILENCE the individual can Withdraw from the conversation; go quiet or leave, Avoid the topic being discussed or Mask their true feelings. In VIOLENCE the individual can try and Control the conversation by leading it down another direction, Label or blame others for the situation or Attack the conversation by becoming verbally aggressive in words, tone and body language. All of these states are indicators the conversation is no longer in a safe place and takes someone within the conversation to bring it back to a safe place by acknowledging what is emotionally occurring for either parties.

Key points
Prepare for the conversation before and during with the following:

  • What outcome do you really want from the conversation?
  • What don’t you want to occur as a result of the conversation?
  • Can you get the outcome you would like and avoid what you don’t want to occur?
  • Check in with yourself; are you in the right state of mind to deliver effective feedback?
  • Are any emotions clouding your perception of the situation?
  • Is your feedback a reflection of your own values and beliefs and not just the behaviour of your colleague?
  • Follow four key steps: Describe the situation in which the feedback occurred, describe the behaviour you saw and share the impact of this. Then listen to the other person’s point of view, what is their interpretation of what occurred?
  • Be crisp and clear with your feedback and frame it up at the beginning eg “ I would like to give you some feedback on X. Is that ok”
  • Ensure you give feedback in the right manner, and consider your tone of voice keeping it collaborative; think about your body language and facial expressions
  • Be sincere and say what you mean with care and respect; using a tone of concern communicates a sense of importance
  • In the feedback situation state observations not interpretations and link it to the bigger picture or wider context
  • Give feedback person to person, not through messengers of technology. The nature of constructive feedback is that it is verbal and informal, use face to face or phone.
  • Stick to two key areas when giving constructive feedback; anymore can be overwhelming
  • Monitor if the conversation is in a safe place; has it gone into silence or violence? Name this and bring it back to a safe dialogue
  • Generally give feedback in real time as close to the incident as possible, waiting or storing up feedback undermines the constructive nature of it. If you need to cool off or prepare your thoughts for giving negative feedback then do so as soon as you are ready
  • At the end of the conversation aim to leave on a positive note where both people feel truly listened to and there is a plan for how similar situations may play out next time.



  • Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic – CEO Hogan Assessment Systems, Professor Business Psychology University College London
  • Liane Davey – HBR Aug 2015; author ‘You First: Inspire your team to grow up, get along and get stuff done’; VP team Options Knightsbridge Capital. ( Zenger/Folkman study 2014)
  • Marty Brounstein –Author Coaching and Mentoring for Dummies
  • Robert C. Pozen – Harvard Business Review 2013
  • ‘The Dialogue Model’ –‘Crucial Conversations – Tools for talking when stakes are high’ K. Patterson, J. Granny, R. McMillan, A. Switzler



Equilibrio’s business services are engaged and retained by start-up entrepreneurs, online entrepreneurs, thought leaders, coaches, consultants, venture capitalists, established business owners, managing directors, SME CEOs, general managers and other business builders.