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  • Tamar Balkin

Can Good Feedback Enhance Wellbeing?

“Ooh-ooh, I heard it through the grapevine

And I'm just about to lose my mind

Honey, honey yeah

People say you hurt from what you see

Nah-nah-not from what you hear

I can't help but bein' confused"

I heard it through the grapevine by Marvin Gaye (click here for the song)


I-O Psych Memes on Twitter @iopsychmemes 31 Jan 2021


Recently I got a call from an experienced HR manager, they wanted to chat to me about how they would give my new client feedback in the first coaching session. Despite her many years of experience in the design and delivery of programs to educate others, and the hours spent guiding her colleagues on good feedback techniques, she was nervous. The phone call reminded me that notwithstanding the widespread discussion, articles and training there is a perception that feedback is fraught, and is therefore often avoided.

What is the point of feedback?

Feedback should help another person identify what they need to start, stop, and continue doing in order to improve their experience at work and that of their colleagues and customers. Regular readers would know that self-awareness is the meta skill of the 21st century. Researchers have found that self-awareness leads to increased happiness, relationships, creativity, confidence and workplace performance.

What tends to go wrong with feedback?

It seems that often both the person delivering the feedback and the recipient are uncomfortable.

This discomfort leads to:

  • Complete avoidance of any feedback

  • Inappropriate gossip

  • Provision of vague or incomplete information

  • Rude and impolite description of mistakes

  • Out of date information

  • Unnecessary escalation

Where should every leader start?

Fundamentally feedback needs:

  • A solid relationship based on trust

  • Mindset that failure means learning can happen

  • Lots of different data sources

  • Tools to actually have the conversation

  • The mindset of unconditional positive regard (click here for my blog on empathy)

  • Knowledge of what exactly what behaviour is expected

  • Clarity around how it is demonstrated

  • Understanding why the behaviour matters and to whom

  • Linking the desired behaviour to purpose on an individual, team, organisational and client level

  • Identification of reliable sources of ongoing feedback

Solicit your own feedback before delivering it to others


“ before you accuse me take a look at yourself”

Before you accuse me take a look at yourself by Eric Clapton (click here for the song)


Remember that not all sources of feedback are reliable, for everyone there is a small trusted group that will tell the truth. These people have the following characteristics:

  • A relationship built on mutual trust, for example a colleague who will go out of their way to help you improve.

  • Sufficient exposure to the behaviour you want feedback on

  • Has a clear picture of what success looks like, they know what best practice is

  • Willing and able to be brutally honest, perhaps they have told you a tough truth

  • You have observed them providing good feedback

The specific questions you will ask relate to your capacity to listen attentively without judgement and to provide feedback.

How do you make sure the message sticks?

Regular readers would be aware that long term sustained behaviour change is difficult (click here for my blog on change).

The following elements will enhance the likelihood of success

  • Education on new behaviour if required, remember effective education takes many forms beyond training, like identifying role models or people whom personify the desired behaviour, or coaching

  • On going support for the change eg: how are you going conversations, I noticed that you did x today how was it ?

  • Use of multiple sources of feedback

  • Appropriate Recognition of small and large changes


Personal photo.


What is the role of the recipient ? Preparation:

  • Remind yourself of the purpose of your work (click here for my blog on purpose)

  • Think objectively about your performance on the aspects of your work that you know are important.

  • Be prepared for the worst case scenario

  • Have a calm mindset (Click here for my blog on quick relaxation hacks).

During the conversation:

  • Receive feedback with grace

  • Demonstrate curiosity by asking open gentle questions

    • Can you tell me more?

    • Can you give me some examples ?

    • When did I start?

  • Discuss options to act on the feedback and together identify sources of support

  • Commit to action

  • Proactively schedule follow up discussion on progress

If the feedback has caught you off guard and is surprising, politely request that you want to please ponder the information for a few days and then discuss plans in more detail. So what happened with the HR manager? At the beginning of the feedback session I reminded both the HR manager and the new client that my role was to support the client achieve long term sustained behaviour change and that our first session would commence immediately after the feedback was delivered. Then I asked my standard question: “how will you know coaching has been successful?”. As expected, the HR manager with very little prompting, provided a clear tactful explanation of the behaviours that needed to change and the strengths that would enable the client to succeed.

Please be aware that next week I am on a training course and therefore may not have the opportunity to blog.



available on request.

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