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3 Principles of Feedback that Works

I wrote, “Don’t give your boss feedback on his poor performance,” in, “Solution Saturday: My Boss is a Terrible Leader.”

So, what makes feedback work?


Angry faces, loud horns, smiles and thumbs up are feedback. You look in the mirror before going out, feedback. You step on the scales in the morning, feedback. Speaking of scales…

You’re excited to step on the scales if you think your weight’s down. You avoid the scales if you stuffed yourself last night.

When options are available, you choose to hang with people who affirm you and avoid those who criticize you. (“Negative Feedback Rarely Leads to Improvement,” HBR Magazine Jan.-Feb. 2018)

Principle #1. People prefer affirmation to criticism. Have you given abundant praise?

Feedback and learning:

Wilma’s* new job often takes her to Mexico City. Her clients speak English, but she hired a tutor to help her improve her high school Spanish.

Imagine a Spanish tutor who doesn’t correct pronunciation. Wilma wants corrective feedback. She might be frustrated with her performance, but seeks correction anyway.

Principle #2. Improvement seeks feedback. Do they desire improvement?

You don’t intentionally choose stupid.

Corrective feedback offends those who feel they’ve arrived and motivates those who seek to improve.

Imagine receiving disconfirming feedback about performance you believe you’ve mastered. You justify, rather than explore.

Self-justification says:

  1. You can’t do it any better than I do it.
  2. They’re over sensitive. Get used to it.
  3. You don’t understand the challenges I’m facing.
  4. You don’t appreciate my achievement and skill.

Spanish and weight:

The scales shout, “You’re fat!”

Good pronunciation advances Wilma’s client relationships and her career. She has a stake in the ground. It matters.

Principle #3. Before giving corrective feedback, explore why it matters to the recipient. Why does feedback matter?

  1. How is work more fulfilling?
  2. How might personal success connect with making corrections?

What makes feedback work? Not work?

*Fictional character.


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