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4 Reasons Why Your Feedback May Be Ineffective

Aktualisiert: 28. Aug. 2019

Our Leadership Culture has changed drastically in the past and still is undergoing a fundamental makeover - impacting the way we interact, how we lead or manage people. In this new work environment, networking and interpersonal communication are key success factors. Successful leaders, managers and staff build networks by using and applying effective communication with an expanding variety and amount of people across departments and business units.

Feedback is a very important and at the same time delicate part of our communication and interaction with peers, staff and superiors, or - when applied to our personal life – with friends and family.

So, how can we then make sure that our feedback is making a real difference?

Let´s assume you know all about the do´s and don’ts of giving feedback, such as being specific, aligning your message and communication style to the other person, or focusing on behaviors not personalities.

Let´s also assume that despite adhering to these important principles, you sometimes get the feeling that your feedback just does not quite "get through" to the other side…Or you might even get their agreement to your feedback, but still feel that they are just not taking it in fully. You might have even heard them say "Thank you for this excellent feedback!", but then seen them go back to their desks and fall into old habits - habits they themselves said they would like to change. How frustrating - for yourself and them. 

So what to do? What are we missing?  My answer is this:

Try not to be a "party pooper"!

When giving feedback, we often behave like little selfish "party poopers".The top 4 misbehaviors of party poopers are:

  1. Coming uninvited and crashing the party

  2. Once there, telling all the other kids what to play and what to do

  3. Choosing a wrapping for your gift that just sucks

  4. Giving your gift and then expecting something in return

1. “Crashing the party” – Giving feedback uninvited.

When we give feedback we often focus a great deal on how we give feedback. And there is no doubt, aspects such as being specific and behavior oriented and tailoring your message to the receiver, are important WHEN giving feedback. So keep, nourish, practice & use them as much as possible.

What we tend to overlook though, are the things that happen BEFORE and around feedback. We need to check if  “the lights are on", i.e. if the setting and timing are right, and if "someone is home”, i.e. the recipient is open to feedback. Therefore, BEFORE you give feedback next time, ask yourself some questions, such as:

“Is this really the right time and setting for feedback?”“Do we both have enough time for this important meeting? Or are there any other immediate meetings scheduled within the next hour or two, which might be distracting our attention?”…"How is the other person feeling right now? Frustrated? Elated? Distracted? How would this impact the way I would like to give feedback?"

This way, you will make sure that your message does not end up in dark space or gets lost in the midst of a lot of background noise. Upon reflection on some of the mistakes I have made in my life so far (more to come to learn from for sure), I would say that giving feedback really is only last step on your path to feedback. Before actually giving feedback there is:

  1. Checking if timing and setting are right

  2. Checking if your counterpart is interested in and open to receiving feedback. And although feedback can be very much like a real gift, even gifts need to be offered first. And then there also some gifts that need to be rejected.

  3. Making sure the other person accepts your offer to provide feedback to them.

Only then has the moment come for your feedback. So, if you want to use your feedback to help another person reflect, learn and grow, be sure not to "crash the party".

Message 1: Before giving feedback, ensure it's the right time and place, then ask if feedback is welcomed, and wait for a positive response.

2. “Telling all the other kids what to play” - Giving advice instead of feedback.

I would really like to suggest a more differentiated view on feedback and encourage all of us to reflect on how feedback is different from merely “giving advice”, or concepts such as “performance reviews”.

Feedback to me is not so much about giving or telling, and more about sharing - sharing our perspective on a particular matter or situation with someone else. One of the more common objections I hear when offering this specific view on feedback, goes something like this: "But that would not work for me. I manage really smart, tough and goal-driven people. I would make it sound too soft, unimportant and even noncommittal, if I told them that I would just like to 'share my perspective' with them?”

My response to this point is twofold:

First, feedback - at least as I use the term and practice it - is about the other person and their development, not about the person giving feedback or their advice. It is not about convincing or persuading anyone. Instead, we make an offer. This way of looking at and practicing feedback will do two things: a) the feedback-provider will experience a great relief of the pressure to deliver, or persuade the other person to change their behavior and views, and b) the feedback-receiver will be more open to this kind feedback and appreciative of the offer.

Second, you don´t need to fear that you are interacting with less impact or power by framing feedback as “a sharing of your perspective”. What you really do by inviting someone to adopt another point of view is give them a chance to have a first-hand experience by seeing things differently with their very own eyes. This is much more powerful than listening to someone´s advice and just taking their word for it. Especially when you help them discover that "an elephant is really more than just a pillar, a snake, a wall or a rope."

Message 2: Share your perspective instead of giving advice.

3. “Choosing the worst wrapping for your gift” - our choice of words

When giving feedback our choice of words still reflects the old perception that “we saw something that the other person didn't see". We think that we know more about them than they do themselves...Don´t get me wrong: I am a big fan of the Johari Window, but we should be careful not to jump to conclusions and assume that we have unearthed anyone's blind spots. Instead, we could ask first why they behaved that way in that particular situation. We need to listen first- ideally to understand not to reply.

After asking for their reflection, we should make sure not to mistake our views and perspective for “THE reality” or “THE truth”. Our perspective is based on our observations, which go through our very personal and individual filters and funnels of attention. These filters are different from person to person and are shaped by our individual priorities, values, convictions etc. In other words, we construct our own reality. A reality, which has - when shared in a constructive manner - much potential to be useful to others; but it is still only another reality - not THE TRUTH.

Considering this subjectivity of reality, we may find it easier to adapt to a more humble state of mind and way to express ourselves, which in turn might be conducive to opening minds and hearts of others, rather than eliciting resistance or defensiveness. Such language could include expressions such as "According to my perspective...", "What I have seen and heard is this:...", "I would like to offer my view on the matter....", rather than "you did XYZ..." or "you must change this...".

Message 3: Use words that open the minds and hearts of others.

4. Trading instead of Giving

I would like to invite you to take a closer look at your feelings before you offer your feedback next time. How much do you want the other person to accept your offer? Worst case: you are very much attached to your own views and just want to see them shared by the other person - a more egocentric motivation for giving feedback. Better: you may only be attached to the act of giving itself - a more altruistic motivation for giving feedback- but you are still attached. This also will cause you suffering. In the case of "giving feedback", you may feel frustrated that your feedback is not accepted, and the other person is not using their full potential.

Thus, even if you love to give feedback and only want to help the other person develop, grow and reach their full potential, be sure to remember this:

It is THEIR development and potential and thus THEIR choice to accept or reject any offers, or advice from another person- even advice given with the best of intentions.

Message 4: The nature of a gift is to be given - without expecting anything in return (otherwise it would be called as a trade).

Please share, like, give your FEEDBACK (I wonder what it will sound like...), or stay in touch to discuss some more:

About the author: Swen writes and speaks about what he calls “the authentic self” – more authenticity in lives, leadership and careers. He is a life-long learner and student of life and people. At the same time, he also enjoys being a guide and coach for people on their paths of self-reflection and self-discovery.

A UTube video on feedback you may enjoy:

Find out more about your own authentic self here: (German Homepage; English translation available soon.)

Start walking the path towards your authentic self. This newsletter (German) will be a useful guide and signpost for you.

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