Stop dreading feedback conversations

Feedback at work can be tough—no matter if you’re giving it or receiving it.

Nurturing a great working relationship requires a balance of empathy and aspiration. In a feedback conversation, err too much on the side of empathy, and we tend to apologize and shy away from the truth. Focus on our aspiration for the other person without being empathetic, and we risk being unfair or unrealistic in our assessment.

But when we have feedback conversations with the intention of helping the other person, we see what’s possible for them while truly understanding and taking into account their current state.

It’s worth it to try to get feedback right. Good feedback has the ability to yield real change — improved performance, better relationships, smarter collaboration.

At SYPartners, we’ve adopted 7 best practices in our own work that might help you reframe your next feedback conversation from a chore to an opportunity. Follow them and you’ll be on your way to co-creating the brightest possible future for your working relationships, and for the work itself.

1. Assume positive intent

When approached as an opportunity for growth, feedback is an aspiration for all a person can be and do. It’s easiest to assume that both parties have each other’s best interest in mind, even if that means a tough conversation.

2. Get real (and stay kind)

Being direct is being kind. In a feedback conversation, use specific examples of actions or behavior to illustrate what you mean — whether you’re giving feedback or responding to it.

3. Talk with, not at

Feedback should be a dialogue. For feedback givers, this means listening and responding, not lecturing. For recipients, this means engaging, letting curiosity override doubt or insecurity.

4. Focus on learning

The best type of feedback is about possibility. Harping on past foibles is less than useful; instead, think together about what’s to be learned and how you both can win moving forward.

5. Seek shared understanding

Feedback is meant to generate learning on both sides — you must understand the situation together to make positive change. Get clear and co-create a plan to move forward.

6. Acknowledge the emotions

It’s easy to take things personally in a feedback conversation — we’re tempted to conflate our work with our identity. Gently acknowledge the emotions in the conversation, cultivating trust and understanding.

7. Be present, and allow for silence

Do what’s necessary to be fully present — set aside enough time for a rich dialogue, including moments for silence to process thoughts and emotions. And find extra time to follow-up.

Bonus: Strive to inspire

Feedback givers: Communicate the brilliance of the person in front of you, and your aspiration for what they can become. Recipients: Honor the person in front of you for giving you a great gift — the gift of respect and growth.