What’s your intention when you give feedback? And what impact does it have?

Giving and receiving feedback is fraught with difficulty. We are often embarrassed to give it and afraid of receiving it. It taps into our anxieties and fears.

But giving feedback that works is necessary – without feedback there is no change. Think of a darts player wearing a blindfold – if they can’t see the results of their throw, they don’t know how to adjust for the next one.

Feedback is essential for learning and development – and it can bring people closer together, with benefits for our mental and emotional health. The important thing is to have a positive intention when you give feedback – for example to help the other person – and to give it in a way that has a constructive impact on them.

So how can you give and receive feedback in a beneficial way?

What is feedback?

Feedback is giving information on which someone can act, in response to something they have said or done.

In other words, feedback needs to be actionable. Telling someone that they “did a great job” is not feedback, as it is not information on which they can act. It is much more helpful to tell them what was good about what they did. For example, after a presentation, they might have been effective in how they engaged the audience, or answered questions, or structured their presentation, or explained key points.

We often make a distinction between positive feedback and constructive (or negative) feedback. Another distinction is between feedback which is opinion and feedback which is observation. It can be easier to give and receive observational feedback – this is simply an account of what somebody has done or said and the impact it had – whereas your opinion is your personal judgement of whether something was good or bad, and this can be disputed.

Why give feedback?

Feedback is an essential part of learning and when there is no feedback, people find it impossible to sustain good performance. People tend to focus their activity on what they are measured on and what they receive feedback on. If there is no measurement and no feedback, they tend to stop doing the activity, as they get the message that it is not important.

Barriers to Giving Feedback

We often shirk away from giving feedback. Even when it is positive, we tend to find it a bit embarrassing and awkward.
What stops us giving or asking for feedback?

• Fear of hearing something we don’t want to hear, such as criticism
• Fear of how the person we want to give feedback to might react
• Lack of skill in receiving feedback in an open-minded, non-defensive way that leads to learning
• Lack of skill in giving feedback in a constructive, non-judgemental way that leads to a plan for improvement
• Embarrassment at giving or receiving praise

We are not very skilled at receiving feedback either. If someone tells us that we have done something well, we tend to pass over it and move on. But pausing to give or receive feedback is important. It helps us work out what we are good at as well as where we could improve. We take our own talents for granted and assume that everyone shares them. When someone tells us what we have done well, it increases our self-awareness and encourages us to do more of it.

Principles for giving feedback

In a nutshell, there are three steps to giving feedback – describe the Behaviour, its Impact and the desired Change (BIC).
Bear these principles in mind:

• Start with a positive if you can
• Be specific – what did they do or say?
• Give observations, not opinions
• Describe the impact of the behaviour (positive or negative)
• Offer advice
• Own the feedback – it must be your observations, not a report from someone else.

The reason it’s helpful to start with a positive is that the person will not feel threatened or become defensive, if they hear something good first. This enables them to be open to acknowledging where improvements can be made.

Guide to Giving Feedback

Here is a step-by-step model for giving feedback, perhaps after a specific event or incident.


What they think they did well


Ideas on what they would do differently


What they think the individual did well



Advice on what they could do differently








If you regularly adopt this style of giving feedback to your team members, you will find that they start doing it in this format for themselves and you will be creating a learning culture in your team.

There are times when you need to give more negative than positive feedback, because you want someone to change their behaviour or performance.  The format below works well for this:

  • Describe what you would like them to stop doing (because it’s not effective)
  • Explain what you would like them to start doing (in order to be more effective)
  • Confirm what you would like them to carry on doing (because it’s working well).

Try this out – think of one of your current team members and note what you would like them to stop, start or continue doing.

Stop Doing
Start Doing
Continue Doing

Giving feedback in this format works because it does not make people feel defensive and it gives them clear guidance on your expectations.  And it ends on a positive note.

By giving feedback that works, you help people to be persistent – a key element of motivation – by building their confidence and self-belief. And this leads to better performance.

Find out more simple tools and practices for managing and motivating people in my book, Motivation: The Ultimate Guide to Leading Your Team.  Use code MTCS25 for 25% off until the end of June!   For a simple guide to coaching others, check out this blog.